DUBLIN — Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop Wednesday for his failure to report child-molesting priests to police — and faced a renewed reminder of the German abuse case most closely linked to his own time in charge of Munich.
Bishop John Magee — who served as secretary to Benedict's three papal predecessors before returning to Ireland in 1987 — apologized to victims of any pedophile priests who were kept in parish posts during his 23 years overseeing the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne.
"To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon," the 73-year-old Magee said in his resignation statement. Irish government investigators are continuing to explore Cloyne abuse cover-ups and expect to report findings later this year.
The Vatican is on the defensive over ever-unfolding accusations that church leaders have protected child abusers for decades in many countries.
Benedict last week issued an unprecedented letter to Ireland addressing the 16 years of church cover-up scandals here. But he has yet to say anything about his handling of the Rev. Peter Hullermann, the case known to have developed on the pope's watch when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he oversaw the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.
Munich Archdiocese spokesman Bernhard Kellner said Wednesday a new person has come forward claiming to have been abused in 1998 by Hullermann. Kellner gave no other details.
Hullermann had been accused of abusing boys in Essen, western Germany, in the 1970s when Ratzinger approved his 1980 transfer to Munich to receive psychological treatment for pedophilia. Until recent years the church in many countries referred child abusers in the priesthood to private clinics — and not the police — when accused of crimes.
Hullermann was convicted in 1986 of abusing a youth, but church officials insist the new abuse happened after Ratzinger was already promoted to higher duties in the Vatican. Hullerman recently was removed again from parish duties after he was discovered still to be in regular contact with children.
Panel assembled to investigate
In a related development, the German government announced Wednesday it is forming a 40-strong panel of experts to investigate the extent of child abuse in Catholic and other institutions for children. The commission will be asked to recommend reforms to Germany's current statutes of limitations so that abuse victims can pursue priests and other church officials for civil damages and criminal liability.
Irish society is still debating the merits of Saturday's message from Benedict apologizing for decades of unchecked child abuse by priests, nuns and other clerics. The letter criticized Irish bishops, promised a Vatican inspection of unspecified dioceses and religious orders in Ireland — but accepted no Vatican responsibility for promoting a culture of cover-up.
Benedict also has yet to accept resignation offers from three other Irish bishops who were linked to cover-ups of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, the subject of a government-ordered investigation that published its findings four months ago.
Magee had been expected to resign ever since an Irish church-commissioned investigation into the mishandling of child-abuse reports in Cloyne ruled two years ago that Magee and his senior diocesan aides failed to tell police quickly about two 1990s cases.
The church and government suppressed publication of that report until December 2008. Magee immediately faced calls to quit from victims' rights activists and some parishioners. They accused him of ignoring an Irish church policy enacted in 1996 requiring all abuse cases to be reported to police.
Magee remained Cloyne bishop in name but transferred day-to-day responsibilities to his superior, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, in March 2009.
Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics, offered prayers and praise for Magee.
"However, 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 in the church," Brady said.
Brady, a Vatican-trained canon lawyer, faces his own cover-up accusations. He has admitted collecting evidence in 1975 from two altar-boy victims of a notorious pedophile priest — but had both boys sign confidentiality agreements and never passed his information to police. That priest, Brendan Smyth, wasn't imprisoned until 1994 after molesting scores of children in Ireland and the United States. Brady confessed his sense of shame in his St. Patrick's Day sermon.
The church's Cloyne report found that Magee and his diocesan deputies fielded complaints from parishioners about two priests from 1995 onward — but told the police nothing until 2003 and little thereafter. The report said Cloyne church authorities appeared solely concerned with helping the two priests, not protecting children of the diocese.
One priest, who was accused of molesting a younger priest when he was a teenager, was encouraged by Magee to resign. But the investigation found that the bishop shielded the abuser's identity from police — and considered such concealment "the normal practice" for the church.
The other priest, a career guidance counselor in a convent school, was accused by several teenage girls and grown women of molesting or raping them since 1995. One complaint came from a woman who had a consensual sexual relationship with the priest for a year — then saw him develop an intimate relationship with her 14-year-old son.
The church has declined to identify the two priests publicly by name. Neither has faced any criminal charges.
Magee, who was born in the Northern Ireland border town of Newry, served as a private secretary to three successive popes — Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II — from 1969 to 1982. He then served as John Paul II's master of ceremonies until 1987.
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