Cloyne abuse report: Details of Magee case

The Cloyne abuse report includes an account of some interaction between Bishop John Magee and a teenager in the diocese. The case is detailed here in a lengthy extract from the report.

The Cloyne abuse report includes an account of some interaction between Bishop John Magee and a teenager in the diocese. The case is detailed here in a lengthy extract from the report.

The report says:

"On 30 December 2008, while the fallout from the recent publication of the Elliott report was still reverberating throughout the Diocese of Cloyne and indeed beyond, the diocesan delegate, Fr Bermingham, received a telephone call from "Joseph" (not his real name).

"Prompted by the contents of the Elliott report, Joseph had reviewed his own interactions with Bishop John Magee during a period when he had been contemplating entering the priesthood. He was concerned that the behaviour of the bishop towards him, which had not perturbed him at the time, was, on reflection, disquieting.

"After a number of telephone calls, Fr Bermingham arranged to meet Joseph on 2 January 2009.

"This was an awkward assignment for Fr Bermingham as the report concerned his bishop, to whom he owed respect and obedience.

"Fr Bermingham told the Commission that he was apprehensive about having to deal with the matter as none of the procedures in either the Framework Document (1996) or Our Children, Our Church (2005) set out how a delegate is to deal with a complaint against his bishop or a superior despite the fact that experience in other countries suggests that complaints against bishops are not unheard of.

The meeting

"At the meeting, which was also attended by Joseph’s father, Joseph gave a history of continuous involvement with the Church throughout his youth, first as an altar boy, then as a reader and latterly as an aspirant priest.

"In all of these capacities he had encountered Bishop Magee. He had attended annual vocations’ meetings organised by the bishop in the period under review when he was aged between 15 and 17. Following assessment, Joseph was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood for the Diocese of Cloyne.

"He was approximately 17 and a half years old at that time but could not take up his place in the seminary until he was aged 18. By this stage, Bishop Magee and Joseph had each other’s mobile telephone numbers. If either wished to speak to the other, texting was usually used to arrange the appointments.

"Later, because of changed family circumstances, Joseph decided not to take up his place in the seminary. Just before the start of the seminary year he met Bishop Magee to notify him of his decision. The meeting took place in the reception room at the bishop’s residence. It was the first time that Joseph had spent time alone with Bishop Magee.

"According to Joseph, that meeting marked a change in the bishop’s behaviour towards him, both in word and deed.

"Joseph reported to Fr Bermingham and has told the Commission that, in the course of this particular meeting, the bishop embraced him tightly and at the same time inquired of him as to whether that “felt good”.

Tight embraces, kisses on forehead

"Joseph reported that this embrace was protracted; it lasted for approximately one minute. He stated that the bishop also kissed him on the forehead. Joseph had a number of further meetings alone with the bishop, some when he was under 18 and some when he was over 18. In the course of those meetings there were similar prolonged tight embraces and kisses on the forehead.

"There is some ambiguity about the precise age Joseph was when some of the alleged behaviour occurred. According to Joseph, the bishop declared that he loved him and told him that he had dreamt about him – this may have happened before he was 18 or soon thereafter.

"It is important to note that Joseph’s contemporaneous reaction to the bishop’s behaviour was that his words and actions were “paternal”. Neither the words nor the gestures had made him feel uneasy at the time.

"As already stated, it was the publicity surrounding the publication of the Elliott report that had caused Joseph to review his interactions with the bishop. Following that publication, Joseph had read in the newspapers general details about the kind of inappropriate behaviour that a boy had experienced at the hands of an unnamed priest before he was abused by that priest.

"Joseph told the Commission that he began “to interpret what had happened between us from a fresh perspective and I began to think that maybe it wasn’t as innocent as I originally thought or assumed it was”.

"Joseph was anxious to know how Fr Bermingham viewed the behaviour and the words which he had described. Fr Bermingham’s response was that, given the actual details revealed and Joseph’s age at the time, the behaviour described did not constitute an allegation of child sexual abuse. He did express the view to Joseph that the behaviour described was inappropriate to the occasion and to the relationship.

"He assured Joseph and his father that Church procedures in relation to these matters would be followed and that he would keep them advised as to developments."

'Not child abuse'

"Following the meeting on 2 January 2009, Fr Bermingham telephoned Mr Ian Elliott of the Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children, who was temporarily acting as the advisory panel for the Diocese of Cloyne, to notify him of the concerns raised by Joseph and to seek his advice in the matter.

"Mr Elliott agreed with Fr Bermingham’s assessment that what had occurred was not child abuse and was accordingly not reportable either to the HSE or the Gardaí under the guidelines set out in Our Children, Our Church.

"He also agreed with Fr Bermingham’s assessment that what had occurred amounted to a boundary infringement and constituted inappropriate behaviour as outlined in paragraph 8.9 of Our Children, Our Church:

"Inappropriate Behaviour and Misconduct":

"There may be instances where, in the judgement of the Director of Child Protection, the complaint does not constitute ‘reasonable grounds for concern’ that child abuse has occurred, but rather indicates inappropriate behaviour, misconduct, or a breach of standards on the part of the person in question.

"In such instances, it may be necessary for the bishop, religious superior or chairperson of the Church organisation to take further action and/or implement disciplinary procedures. Such action might include obtaining a professional assessment of fitness to carry out duties; advice and counselling; a requirement to undertake special training or seek specialised assistance.”

"Mr Elliott and Fr Bermingham agreed that the guidelines required that Joseph be informed that the matter would not be reported to the civil authorities and further that he be informed of the reason for this decision.

"They also agreed that procedures required that the person complained about, Bishop Magee, and his superior be informed of the fact and detail of the complaint. This placed Fr Bermingham in the awkward and unenviable position of having to confront his own bishop with an allegation of inappropriate behaviour.

Meeting the bishop

"On the following morning Fr Bermingham sent an email to Mr Elliott containing the text which he proposed to read to Bishop Magee and sought his approval for that course.

"On 3 January, Fr Bermingham met Bishop Magee. According to Fr Bermingham, he told the bishop that he had a very difficult task to perform and that he was going to read a text to the bishop.

"He told the Commission that he first of all cautioned Bishop Magee that he did not need to make any response to what was going to be read out.

"Fr Bermingham told the Commission that, following the reading of the statement which contained details of Joseph’s concerns and of Fr Bermingham’s meeting with him, Bishop Magee stated words to the effect that he would never harm that young man. Fr Bermingham noted that the bishop was shocked at the interpretation placed on his actions.

Involvement of Archbishop Clifford

"Following his brief meeting with the bishop, Fr Bermingham telephoned Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Bishop of Cashel and Emly, who was the metropolitan archbishop for the Diocese of Cloyne.

"Later that same day, Archbishop Clifford met Fr Bermingham. Fr Bermingham gave Archbishop Clifford a copy of the written account which he had read out to Bishop Magee. He also told him that he had been in touch with and taken advice from Mr Elliott.

"Archbishop Clifford inquired about Bishop Magee’s reaction and was told that Bishop Magee had admitted to the gestures but had not said whether or not he had uttered the words as written down.

"On Monday 5 January 2009, Fr Bermingham wrote to Joseph informing him that he had reported the matter to Archbishop Clifford, that he had sought the advice of Mr Elliott, and that, on the basis of the information supplied, the interaction between him and Bishop Magee did not constitute child sexual abuse.

Joseph was invited to contact Archbishop Clifford if he wished to follow up his concerns further and he was also told of his option to bring his concerns to the civil authorities.

"The letter concluded:

“I should add that Bishop Magee, on being informed of your concerns, wishes to assure you that any words or actions of his were never intended to hurt, embarrass or injure you in any way and he continues to wish you well in your studies and in your future career.” "

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