Band of holy brothers determined to stick together

Fri, Jul 15, 2011, 01:00

ANALYSIS:ONE OF the striking features of the conduct of Irish bishops throughout this lengthy clerical child sex abuse crisis has been their collegiality. They have stood by one another. The few exceptions to their brotherly embrace, such as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and retired Bishop Willie Walsh, have had a more Arctic experience

.An illustration of the bishops’ loyalty to each other can be gleaned from what happened in early 2009.

On December 19th, 2008, the church’s watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, published a report detailing that child protection practices in Cloyne were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.

December 30th, 2008

“Joseph” rang Fr Bill Bermingham, then designated person for safeguarding children in Cloyne, and asked to meet.

January 2nd, 2009

They met, with Joseph’s father present. Joseph explained that he had once considered the priesthood and discussed this with Bishop Magee. He was 17 at the time and too young to enter a seminary.

He eventually decided against the priesthood and met Bishop Magee to discuss this. They met at the bishop’s house in Cobh. It was the first time they were alone together. The bishop embraced him “tightly”, according to the Cloyne report, and kissed him on the forehead, and would tell him during later encounters that he loved him and had dreamt about him. There were other such meetings and similar encounters, which Joseph then felt were paternal.

However, after publication of the watchdog’s report, Joseph began to think the bishop’s behaviour was not so innocent. It was why he contacted Fr Bermingham. Later, Ian Elliott of the National Board for Safeguarding Children and Fr Bermingham would conclude these encounters were not child abuse and not reportable to the civil authorities. What took place was “boundary infringement” and ‘inappropriate behaviour’ by Bishop Magee, the report said.

January 3rd, 2009

Fr Bermingham informed Bishop Magee of Joseph’s allegations. He also informed Archbishop of Cashel Dermot Clifford. Bishop Magee was shocked at Joseph’s interpretation of their meetings

January 7th, 2009

Archbishop Clifford informed Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady by phone about the allegations against Bishop Magee. Then minister for children Barry Andrews announced the government had extended the remit of the the Murphy commission to include the Cloyne diocese.

January 9th, 2009

The Irish Timespublished results of a survey it conducted of the four Catholic archbishops to establish who among them supported Bishop Magee remaining in office.

Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Dermot Clifford, both then aware of the allegations against Bishop Magee, believed he should stay on. So too did the archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, while Archbishop Martin responded with a cryptic “Bishop Magee should make a decision in the best interests of child protection in his diocese”. This was understood to mean he should go. At that point three of the four Catholic archbishops in Ireland supported Bishop Magee remaining in office despite the damning report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and despite two of them also being aware of allegations against him.

January 11th, 2009

Archbishop Clifford visited the papal nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza in Dublin and told him about the allegations against Bishop Magee. The nuncio said he would forward details to Rome.

January 13th, 2009

Cardinal Brady explicitly rejected calls for Bishop Magee to resign in an RTÉ interview, in Killarney. He was aware of the calls for the bishop’s resignation “and I understand why people would make those calls because some people are very angry. . . however, on reflection I think he should not resign”, he said.

He had “known Bishop Magee for almost 50 years. I think he is dependable and reliable. I think he has learned a very painful lesson and I think that he will do everything in his power to make sure that this terrible thing does not happen again in his diocese”.

This unexpected intervention by the cardinal caused some surprise and was said to have been prompted by reports that Bishop Magee was under strain. Cardinal Brady knew why. Since Wednesday, we do, too.

Archbishop Clifford and Ian Elliott decided to report Joseph’s complaint to gardaí as “the better course of action”, the report said.

Joseph went to a solicitor and the Garda. Gardaí concluded that, while Bishop Magee’s behaviour was inappropriate and an infringement, it was not sexually abusive, the report said.

January 23rd, 2009

The bishops held an emergency meeting in Maynooth. There were more than 20 present, and they discussed whether Bishop Magee should resign in light of the report and the extension of the remit of the Murphy commission to include Cloyne. Allegations against Bishop Magee were not discussed, according to minutes of the meeting.

At that meeting, according to the Cloyne report, Archbishop Martin and “three or four” other bishops felt Bishop Magee should resign. Archbishop Clifford spoke against this but later changed his mind, it said.

Cardinal Brady later told the commission that at that meeting he was not in favour of the status quo in Cloyne. After that emergency meeting Cardinal Brady, Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop John McAreavey, and the papal nuncio met Bishop Magee and asked him to stand aside.

In The Irish Times survey of January 9th, Bishop McAreavey responded that if Bishop Magee could establish trust then he could “usefully help the diocese”. Bishop O’Reilly responded that Bishop Magee should stay on.

January 31st, 2009

Papal nuncio Leanza met Bishop Magee privately and “appeared” to suggest he stand down.

February 4th, 2009

Bishop Magee requested the appointment of an apostolic administrator in his place to Cloyne. He suggested four names. None was selected.

February 28th, 2009

The Vatican appointed Archbishop Clifford as apostolic administrator to Cloyne diocese. It was announced publicly on March 7th. It didn’t end there. The report said that at some point in March, Fr Bermingham and a senior social worker suggested to Joseph of his embrace by Bishop Magee that “the pope often greeted people in this fashion”. It said that on March 21st, 2009, Archbishop Clifford and Fr Bermingham also met Joseph. They suggested to him that Bishop Magee’s embrace was “an Italianate gesture”. Joseph responded that Bishop Magee had been “22 years in Cobh”.