Saturday, March 07, 2009

Shake-Up in Cloyne

In an unusual arrangement reflecting the fallout of the Cloyne Report for the scandal-weary Irish church, this morning the Pope appointed an apostolic administrator for the Cork diocese, stripping Bishop John Magee (right) of his powers, but not his office, at the embattled prelate's own request.

Announced by the Irish bishops, Cloyne's metropolitan, Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, will step in, enjoying the full powers of the diocesan bishop while Magee, 72 -- the former secretary to three Popes -- will "devote the necessary time and energy to cooperating fully with the government Commission of Inquiry into child protection practices and procedures in the diocese of Cloyne," according to a statement from the diocese, which added that Magee was "grateful" for the Pope's move.

In his own statement, Cloyne's interim overseer pledged "every possible cooperation" with the state inquest, while the isle's primate Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh said in a terse repsonse that the move was "an indication of the importance which the church gives to safeguarding children and caring for the needs of victims."

Nearly two decades since the first revelations of clergy sex-abuse and chancery cover-up rocked Irish Catholicism, the move comes three months after the church's own review found Cloyne out of compliance with the bishops' protocols, judging that the diocese's handling of cases was "inadequate and, in some respects, dangerous... thereby potentially exposing vulnerable young people to further harm" as a result.

In response, Magee admitted to "errors" in his conduct, but ruled out the option of standing down. The bishop requested the appointment of an apostolic administrator in early February.

Along the way, Magee's future became openly debated in the press, with both Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin appearing in turns to push the prelate toward the door. While Brady later expressed his support for the bishop, Martin made headlines and raised eyebrows by publicly embracing a priest who made an "atonement walk" across Ireland calling for Magee's resignation.

In January, the Irish cabinet announced the opening of a state inquiry on Cloyne by the same panel soon to complete its investigation of the history of abuse in the capital church.

At best, however, the appointment of the 69 year-old Communications chair for the Irish bench is a temporary fix. In addition to Cloyne, Clifford remains head of his own diocese, and the bella figura-esque solution is unlikely to satisfy the calls for resignation made by victim advocates, politicians and churchfolk alike.

By law, an apostolic administrator is named for an open-ended interim period, and no indication was given with today's announcement on what form a permanent resolution for the Cloyne church would take. In other words, still standing as the diocesan bishop despite the privation of governance, it remains possible that Magee could be reinstated to the post's full faculties at any time.

The bishop is slated to address the move at a 6pm (1800 UTC) Mass tonight in St Colman's Cathedral.

SVILUPPO: Citing the amount of work the state inquiry will entail, Magee said at tonight's cathedral Mass that not only is he handing over the governance of the diocese, but also his confirmation schedule, the latter task entrusted to his vicars forane.

Bottom line: Magee gets his wish to remain bishop of Cloyne... while dropping off the face of the planet.

From his 6pm statement:
You may be aware that on January 7th last the government decided to ask the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese to carry out an examination of the operation of practices and policies in relation to child protection in this Diocese. At that time I stated I would give every possible cooperation to the Commission in carrying out its task.

This, I came to realise, will entail quite an amount of work for me.... I am conscious of the fact that, as I have to give so much of my time and energy to the task ahead, conducting the normal administration of the Diocese, in all its aspects, would prove to be very difficult. Therefore, as you may have heard from media reports earlier today, on February 4th last I requested the Holy See to appoint an Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese. The Apostolic Nuncio announced today that the Holy Father has acceded to my request and has appointed Archbishop Dermot Clifford as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Cloyne. This means that the governance of the Diocese has now been transferred to Archbishop Clifford and that he has been given all the powers and duties of the Bishop of Cloyne. I retain the title of Bishop of Cloyne and I will dedicate my full time to the matter of the Inquiry. I shall certainly give Archbishop Clifford every support and assistance and shall keep him in my daily Masses and prayers. I ask you to do likewise. I am grateful to the Holy Father for the appointment of Archbishop Dermot Clifford as Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne.

I ask you to join with me as we continue to remember in our prayers any persons who have been so wrongly abused by priests of this Diocese.