John Magee (bishop)

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For other people named John Magee, see John Magee (disambiguation).
John Magee
Religion Roman Catholic
Personal
Born (1936-09-24) 24 September 1936 (age 77)
Newry, Northern Ireland
Senior posting
Based in Ireland
Title Bishop Emeritus of Cloyne
Period in office
1987–2010
Predecessor John Ahern
Successor William Crean
Religious career
Previous post
Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations
Present post
Bishop Emeritus of Cloyne

John Magee SPS (born 24 September 1936) is a retired Roman Catholic bishop in Ireland.[1] He resigned his episcopal seat on 24 March 2010.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Newry [An tIúir], Northern Ireland, in the Roman Catholic diocese of Dromore, on 24 September 1936. His father was a dairy farmer. He was educated at St Colman's College in Newry and entered the St Patrick's Missionary Society at Kiltegan, County Wicklow in 1954. He also attended University College Cork where he obtained an honours degree in philosophy before going to study theology in Rome, where he was ordained priest on 17 March 1962. He served as a missionary in Nigeria for almost six years before being appointed Procurator General of St Patrick's Society in Rome. In 1969 he was appointed secretary to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome, when he was chosen by Pope Paul VI to be one of his private secretaries. On Pope Paul's death he remained in service as a private secretary to his successor, Pope John Paul I, and also to Pope John Paul II.[2] As private secretary to three Popes, Magee is the only man to hold such a position in Vatican history.[citation needed]

He also acted as chaplain to the Vatican's Swiss Guard.

Death of Pope John Paul I[edit]

In his own words, Magee recounted the surrounding events and death of Pope John Paul I, explaining that he found the pope dead in his bed on the morning on 28 September 1978 (Lighthouse Catholic Media, NRP, 2008, entitled "Untold Stories of the Last Three Popes"). While Magee was the first to summon assistance, he explains that the nun who served him coffee each morning was, in fact, the first to discover the pope dead, when she realised he had not opened the door to accept his morning beverage (Lighthouse Catholic Media, NRP, 2008, entitled "Untold Stories of the Last Three Popes").

In a radio interview in 1990, RTÉ religious affairs correspondent Kieron Wood asked Magee why he had claimed that he found the body of the dead Pope, when it was then public knowledge that the body had been found by a nun. "I did find the body of His Holiness", he replied. "I just didn't find it first."[3]

Service under Pope John Paul II[edit]

He remained for a time in the same capacity with Pope John Paul II, elected on 16 October 1978, but was in 1982 made papal Master of Ceremonies and continued in this post until on 17 February 1987 when he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Cloyne, in Ireland. He was consecrated bishop on 17 March 1987, St. Patrick's Day, by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

On 28 April 1981 Magee travelled to Long Kesh Prison in Belfast, Northern Ireland on behalf of Pope John Paul II to meet with IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Magee sought to convince Sands to end his hunger strike; Magee's attempt was unsuccessful and Sands died one week later.

In January 2007, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków and former private secretary of Pope John Paul II for forty years, published a book of reminiscences of his life with the Pope entitled Una Vita con Karol (Rizzoli, Milan). Although Dziwisz mentions other colleagues such as Archbishop Kabongo and Monsignor Thu, who also acted as private secretaries to the Pope, he does not mention John Magee at any point in the 250-page book. However, in May 2008, Cardinal Dziwisz was "surprised" when it was put to him that Bishop Magee was the only papal secretary not to be mentioned by name. Indeed, at Pope John Paul II's request, Dziwisz presented to Magee as a gift the last cassock that the Pope wore before he died.

Bishop of Cloyne[edit]

Interest in vocations[edit]

Bishop Magee has played a pivotal role in the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference where he has been a leading figure in the modernisation of the liturgy in Ireland, especially in championing the avant garde. Bishop Magee's pastoral strategy has always placed heavy emphasis on the promotion of vocations to the priesthood but, after some initial success, the number of vocations in the diocese of Cloyne entered a period of slow but certain decline, with numbers of seminarians dropping from 46 to 5. This trend is reflected all over the island of Ireland. However, with five seminarians, Cloyne is the fourth most populated seminarian group in Ireland, after Raphoe, Dublin and Meath. Bishop Magee has announced his intention of tackling the shortage of vocations by encouraging lay persons of both sexes to become active in Church life at all levels. He appointed Ireland's first female "faith developer" and entrusted her with the task of transforming an Irish rural diocese into a cosmopolitan pastoral model using techniques borrowed from several urban dioceses in the United States. Bishop Magee has made the faith developer's services available, free of charge, to the Irish Episcopal Conference.

Redecoration of cathedral[edit]

Bishop Magee was in dispute with the Friends of St Colman's Cathedral, a local conservationist group in Cobh which organised an effective and professional opposition to the Bishop's controversial plans to re-order the interior of Cobh Cathedral, plans similar to much-criticised re-orderings in Killarney, Cork and Limerick cathedrals. In an oral hearing conducted by An Bord Pleanála, the Irish Planning Board, it emerged that irregularities had occurred in the planning application that were traced to Cobh Town Council which accommodated the Bishop's plans to modify the Victorian interior designed by E W Pugin and George Ashlin. On 2 June 2006, when Bishop Magee was in Lourdes, An Bord Pleanála directed Cobh Town Council to refuse the Bishop's application.[4]

On 25 July 2006 Magee published a pastoral letter stating: "As a result of An Bord Pleanála's decision, the situation concerning the temporary plywood altar still remains unresolved and needs to be addressed. The Diocese will initiate discussions with the planning authorities in an attempt to find a solution, which would be acceptable from both the liturgical and heritage points of view."[5]

A diocesan official explained that the bishop did not wish to institute a judicial review in the Irish High Court because of the financial implications of such an action and because of the bishop's desire to avoid a Church-State clash.

Claims that the decision of An Bord Pleanála infringed the constitutional property rights of religious bodies were dismissed when it was revealed that the cathedral is the property of a secular trust established in Irish law.[6] It is estimated that Bishop Magee expended over €200,000 in his unsuccessful bid to modernise the interior of Cobh Cathedral to bring it into line with what he claimed were Vatican II guidelines. It is believed that a hefty contribution to the bishop's expenses was made by fellow trustee, Dr Tom Cavanagh of Fermoy, before he resigned from the Cathedral Steering Committee in September 2006. So far Dr Cavanagh has not been replaced on the committee.[7]

Public interest then focused on who would pay the substantial bill incurred by the Friends of St Colman's Cathedral in presenting their case.

The controversy was reported even outside Ireland, as shown in the external links below.

A February 2006 article by Kieron Wood in 'The Sunday Business Post'[1] claimed that Magee did not have the backing of the Vatican in his proposals for St Colman's. At the oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála he was requested to provide a copy of the letter from the Vatican in which he claimed he had been given approval for the modernising of Cobh Cathedral. The letter that he produced was a congratulatory message dated 9 December 2003 [no. 158/99/L) to the team of architects who worked on the cathedral project from Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The whole text of this letter was then reproduced in a publication called 'Conserving Cobh Cathedral: The Case Stated’ pp. 108–109.[8]

Health problems[edit]

Bishop Magee's failing health continued to be a source of concern for his diocese. In 2007, for the third year in succession, he failed to complete his personal schedule of confirmations in Cloyne diocese.

On 12 May 2007 prayers were requested for Bishop Magee who was admitted to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where he underwent a knee replacement operation. All official engagements were cancelled for the next ten weeks to allow the Bishop sufficient time to recuperate. After this ten-week period, the bishop, described as well-rested, began catching up on his work. The annual clerical changes were issued.

International profile[edit]

Shortly before Pope John Paul II died on 2 April 2005, the Pope's Polish personal secretary, Stanisław Dziwisz called Magee urgently to Rome, where he arrived the day after the Pope's death. While remaining in Rome for the Pope's funeral, he kept contact with his diocese and was informed of the great outpouring of grief and love for Pope John Paul II manifested by the people of his diocese, and declared that he was grateful to the journalists who by interviewing him enabled him through their various media to share with his people his thoughts and his own grief on that occasion.[9]

Who's Who in Ireland [2006] described Magee as "remote [and] low profile". It commented that many ecclesiastical observers "expected him to return to Vatican City by now" and remarked that the "red hat still eludes him" (cf. Who's Who in Ireland [2006], p. 233).

In the 2007 play [2] The Last Confession], which centred on events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I, the Pope's valet claimed that Magee was responsible for the Pontiff's death and that he fled after committing the act. Magee is represented as interrogated by a committee of cardinals and explaining why he had to leave Rome after the Pope's death.

April 2008 brought renewed speculation that Magee was being considered for a position in the Roman Curia. The French left-wing clerical review, Golias reported that the Irishman was in the running to succeed as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The review suggested that Magee's support for the Latin Mass had won him the Pope's approval and it argued that the bishop's apparent lack of ambition and shyness eminently qualified him for a position in the Vatican [3].

In September 2008, as the world prepared to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of John Paul I, the Italian weekly Diva e Donna published an interview with Magee, presenting it as the first time he broke his silence on the events surrounding the death of John Paul I, which he attributed to exhaustion brought on by the stress of the initial period following his election. Magee said he had been accused of having poisoned the Pope and had even been questioned by INTERPOL.[10]

2006 ad limina visit[edit]

At a meeting of his liturgical advisers and diocesan clergy in November 2006, Bishop Magee spoke of his conversation with the Pope in the course of that ad limina visit at the end of the previous month. He mentioned that he had been closely questioned on several aspects of his proposals to re-order Cobh Cathedral. It was obvious, he said, that the Pope had been kept well informed of the entire issue.

Bishop Magee's contribution to the ad limina visit concerned not only his diocese of Cloyne but also ceremonial matters (an area of expertise for him) on behalf of the Conference. He also facilitated the broadcasting, in coincidence with the visit, of a life of Pope John Paul I prepared some months earlier by Italian state television (RAI). In an interview published on the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire on 26 October 2006, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone criticised the image that the programme presented of Pope John Paul I.

After the ad limina visit, Bishop Magee represented the Irish bishops at a meeting in Rome of the International Commission for Eucharistic Congresses.

Clerical child sex abuse inquiry[edit]

In December 2008, Bishop Magee found himself at the centre of a controversy concerning his handling of child sex abuse cases by clergy in the diocese of Cloyne. There were calls for his resignation, and on 7 March 2009 he announced that at his request the Pope had placed the running of the diocese in the hands of Dermot Clifford, metropolitan archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly, to whose ecclesiastical province the diocese of Cloyne belongs. Magee remained Bishop of Cloyne, but withdrew from its administration in order, he said, to dedicate his full time to the matter of the inquiry.[11] On 24 March 2010 it was announced by the Holy See that Bishop Magee had formally resigned from his duties as Bishop of Cloyne and was now bishop emeritus.[12]

The subsequent report of the Irish government judicial inquiry, The Cloyne Report, published on 13 July 2011, found that former Bishop Magee had falsely told the Government and the HSE in a previous inquiry that the diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities.[13][14]

The inquiry into Cloyne – the fourth examination of clerical abuse in the Church in Ireland – found the greatest flaw in the diocese was repeated failure to report all complaints. It found nine allegations out of 15 were not passed on to the Garda.

Response[edit]

Speaking in August 2011 Magee said that he felt "horrified and ashamed" by abuse in his diocese. Magee said he accepted "full responsibility" for the findings. He added that "I feel ashamed that this happened under my watch – it shouldn't have and I truly apologise," he said. "I did endeavour and I hoped that those guidelines that I issued in a booklet form to every person in the diocese were being implemented but I discovered they were not and that is my responsibility."

Magee also offered to meet abuse victims and apologised "on bended knee". "I beg forgiveness, I am sorry and I wish to say that if they wish to come and see me privately I will speak with them and offer my deepest apology," he said. Bishop Magee said he had been "truly horrified" when he read the full extent of the abuse in the report. However, the victim said apologies would "never go far enough". "It's too late for us now, the only thing it's not too late for is that maybe there will be a future where people will be more enlightened, more aware and protect their children better," she said. Asked about restitution for victims, Dr Magee said it was a matter for the Cloyne Diocese.[15]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Virgilio Noè
Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations
1982 – 17 February 1987
Succeeded by
Piero Marini
Preceded by
John Ahern
Bishop of Cloyne
17 February 1987 – 24 March 2010
Succeeded by
William Crean