Irish Catholic bishop resigns over handling of sex abuse reports

By Philip Pullella
Thursday, March 25, 2010

VATICAN CITY -- An Irish Catholic bishop who was personal secretary to three popes became the latest and biggest casualty Wednesday in the scandal over child sexual abuse that is convulsing the church in Europe.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, Ireland.

Magee, 73, was accused in a 2009 investigation of mishandling reports of sexual abuse in his diocese. He quit his daily administrative duties a year ago and offered his resignation to the pope this month.

"To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon," Magee said in a statement.

Four other Irish bishops who have come under criticism for their handling of sexual abuse cases have offered their resignations to the pope. He has accepted only one of them.

Calls have been growing in Ireland for the head of the Irish church, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign over his involvement in covering up a case of sexual abuse when he was a priest in 1975. But Brady, who has defended Magee in the past, has not yet tendered his resignation to the pope.

Magee is the most prominent Catholic cleric to lose his post in a scandal that has gripped Ireland and spread to several other European countries, including the pope's native Germany.

In a letter to the Irish people Saturday, the pope apologized to victims of child sexual abuse there and ordered an official inquiry. But critics said the pope failed to address pressure in Ireland for a radical restructuring of the church there, nor did he say that bishops implicated in the scandal should resign.

In Germany, the government announced the formation of a panel to investigate cases of abuse of children in Catholic, Protestant and secular schools.

Magee was well known in the Vatican. He served as one of two personal secretaries to Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, and to his successor, John Paul I, who was in office for only 33 days. He kept that job for the first four years of the papacy of John Paul II and later served as Vatican master of ceremonies.

In 1981, John Paul II sent Magee to Northern Ireland in an eleventh-hour bid to persuade members of the Irish Republican Army, including Bobby Sands, to end a hunger strike. Sands later died.

In a statement on Magee's resignation, Brady said he understood the feelings of "those who feel angry and let down by the often inadequate response of the leaders of the Church."

The investigation into the Cloyne diocese was separate from an Irish government report on the coverup of sexual abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese.

-- Reuters

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