Irish bishop begs forgiveness

2010-03-24 22:24

Dublin - An Irish bishop who was private secretary to three popes begged forgiveness from victims of child sex abuse in his diocese on Wednesday, as his resignation was accepted by the Vatican.

Bishop John Magee, who stepped aside a year ago pending an investigation into abuse claims, said he hoped that the probe's findings would help "towards healing for those who have been abused".

"As I depart, I want to offer once again my sincere apologies to any person who has been abused by any priest of the diocese of Cloyne during my time as bishop or at any time," he said in a statement.

"To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon," added the 73-year-old bishop, whose diocese is in southern Ireland.

His comments came as the Vatican said the pope had accepted the resignation of Magee, who served as private secretary to three successive pontiffs - Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.

Magee reportedly found John Paul I's body in 1978, when he died after only some 30 days in office - although it later emerged that a nun found the Holy Father dead, and Magee denied that he was the first to discover the corpse.

His resignation was accepted under a church law requiring the departure of a bishop who, due to "illness or some other grave reason, has become unsuited for the fulfilment of his office", said a Vatican statement.

Child sex abuse

Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, has been rocked by two successive reports in the last year on child sex abuse stretching back decades, and on Church leaders' complicity in covering it up.

Magee's resignation follows that of Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick last December.

In earlier abuse scandals, Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns in south east Ireland quit in 2002, while the Irish government fell in 1994 amid a controversy over a paedophile Catholic priest, Brendan Smyth.

The Cloyne cleric said he tendered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI on March 9 and was informed on Wednesday that it had been accepted - shortly before the Vatican announced it in a statement.

"I welcome the fact that my offer of resignation has been accepted, and I thank the priests, religious and faithful of the diocese for their support... and assure them of a place in my prayers always," he added.

He noted that he had taken "full responsibility" in December 2008 for criticisms contained in a report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Ireland's top Catholic churchman, thanked Magee for his "contribution to the work of the Irish Bishops’ Conference over the past 20 years, particularly in the area of liturgy.

Inadequate response

"However, foremost in my thoughts in these days are those who have suffered abuse by clergy and those who feel angry and let down by the often inadequate response of leaders in the Church," he added.

Magee stood aside last March and the Vatican appointed another Irish cleric, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, to govern his diocese temporarily, while an official Commission began investigating abuse claims.

The Commission is still examining alleged abuse in the Cloyne diocese, according to its website. A spokesperson said its findings should be finalised by the end of June, when they would be handed to the government.

Magee's resignation came four days after the pope issued a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics voicing "shame and remorse" over the paedophilia scandal and said bishops had made grave errors in their response to allegations.

Since the Irish cases emerged, abuse scandals have come to light in the pope's native Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland.