Former Bishop John Magee has apologised for failing the victims of abusive priests under his authority.
The one-time Vatican aide and papal envoy’s climb through Catholic ranks has been destroyed, in his own admission, by a flawed and failed approach to child protection.
The commission found Bishop Magee misled authorities when he created one false and one accurate account of a meeting with a victim of abuse.
He was also found to have ignored a report by an independent expert drafted in to Cloyne in 2003, who found the diocese was not following rules on child sex abuse allegations.
Bishop Magee‘s explanations for the failures in Cloyne and attempts to blame his clerics for inadequacies were dismissed out of hand by the inquiry.
In a statement, he said: “I again sincerely apologise to all those who were abused by priests in the Diocese of Cloyne for my failure to ensure that they were fully supported and responded to in their time of need.
“While I was fully supportive of the procedures, I now realise that I should have taken a much firmer role in ensuring their implementation.
“I accept in its entirety the commission’s view that the primary responsibility for the failure to fully implement the church procedures in the diocese lay with me.”
The inquiry also examined an allegation involving the bishop made by a young man who considered training to be a priest.
He reported the bishop after the cleric hugged him and kissed him on the forehead and told him he had dreamt about him.
Experts decided no child abuse occurred but decided it was “boundary infringement and constituted inappropriate behaviour”.
Bishop Magee, who always maintained he was comforting the young man, was not found to have acted in a criminal manner over the incident although it was reported to Rome.
The Newry-born cleric, who was dispatched by the Vatican in 1981 in an eleventh-hour bid to end the IRA hunger strikes days before Bobby Sands died, was a surprise choice to lead the Diocese of Cloyne when appointed in 1987.
He played a famous role in the reporting of Pope John Paul I’s death in 1978 - rather than let the world know a nun had found the pontiff dead in the early hours, a statement was issued claiming Bishop Magee had made the discovery.
The closest he came to controversy over the next 30 years was when he announced plans to renovate St Colman‘s Cathedral in Cobh – the heart of Cloyne.
However, Bishop Magee was subject to a death threat on Christmas Eve two months before he stepped down over reports the diocese was not following guidelines on child protection.
For years he was held in high esteem as a trusted Vatican aide and that faith may go some way to explain the year-long wait for a decision on his future after he stepped down in 2009 – it took Pope Benedict just 10 days to make a similar decision on Bishop Donal Murray.
A career highlight came during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland, where the Co Down dairy farmer’s son was an almost constant presence at the pontiff’s side.
Years later he spoke of the father-son relationship he enjoyed with Pope Paul VI and the more brotherly bond he experienced with John Paul I and John Paul II.
The former bishop, who no longer lives in Cloyne, added: “Given my position of responsibility, I am particularly saddened when I read the accounts of the complainants describing the effects of the abuse, knowing that I contributed to their distress.
“I have met some of the complainants personally and heard their stories.
“The people who were so terribly abused by priests found the courage to come forward to talk to me, or to my delegate, Monsignor O’Callaghan, who was representing me, and in many cases we failed them.
“I am sorry that this happened and I unreservedly apologise to all those who suffered additional hurt because of the flawed implementation of the church procedures, for which I take full responsibility.”