Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop after he was found to have mishandled allegations of clerical sexual abuse of children in his County Cork diocese.
Bishop John Magee, who served as private secretary for three popes, is the biggest casualty of the unfolding crisis over paedophilia in the Irish church.
His resignation follows publication at the weekend of a landmark pastoral letter addressed to the church in Ireland, in which the Pope criticised the hierarchy for a “misplaced concern” to protect the Church and avoid scandal.
The Pope’s intervention followed last year’s report by Justice Yvonne Murphy that chronicled decades of child abuse by Irish priests in the Dublin diocese that the Church “obsessively” sought to conceal. That followed the separate Ryan report which detailed the physical and sexual abuse at Catholic-run orphanages and reformatory schools from the 1950s.
Bishop Magee had already stood aside in March 2009 after an independent report found that the child protection practices in his Cloyne diocese had put children at risk.
The report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic church in Ireland, which is independent of the church, was critical of the way the diocese dealt with a series of complaints of sexual abuse against two priests.
One woman reported Father B in 1996 saying she had a year-long sexual relationship with him and that she had seen him kissing her 14-year-old son. Three other complaints were made against this priest between 1995 and 1997 and in 2005 a woman claimed she had had sex with the priest since she was 13.
The report found the child protection practices in the diocese “inadequate” and “in some respects dangerous”.
The report said the local church authorities had failed to act effectively to limit the access to children by individuals against whom there had been a credible complaint of child abuse.
Bishop Magee said on Wednesday: “I take full responsibility for the criticism of our management of issues in that report.”
Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish church, said he wanted to acknowledge Bishop Magee’s “long and varied ministry”.
But he added: “Foremost in my thoughts in these days are those who have suffered abuse by clergy and those who feel angry and let down by the often inadequate response of leaders of the church.”
Two other Irish bishops have offered their resignations in connection with the investigation into child abuse in Dublin.
Cardinal Brady is himself facing calls to resign from victims groups over his role as a young priest in a secret church investigation in the 1970s into the notorious clerical paedophile Brendan Smyth, who was eventually convicted in 1994.
It was the row over the delayed extradition of Father Smyth to Northern Ireland in 1994 that led to the collapse of the Fianna Fail–Labour coalition and the resignation of Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach in December that year.