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Irish bishop in child sex abuse row steps aside



March 7, 2009

An Irish Roman Catholic bishop at the centre of a row over his handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in his diocese has stepped aside, church authorities said on Saturday.

Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, in the south of Ireland, who was private secretary to three successive popes -- Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II -- said in a statement he had asked Pope Benedict XVI on February 4 to appoint an administrator to his diocese.

An apostolic administrator is appointed to govern a diocese temporarily when "special or very serious circumstances warrant" such an appointment, the church says. He governs in the name of the pontiff.

Magee, 72, retains the title of Bishop of Cloyne but Pope Benedict has appointed the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dermot Clifford, to assume the powers and duties of the diocese.

Mainly Roman Catholic Ireland has been rocked by recurring scandals involving decades of abuse by Catholic clergy.

Magee has been under pressure since he was criticised in a report last December from the church's own National Board for Safeguarding Children into the handling of two Cloyne priests accused of abusing children.

It found that child protection practices in the Cloyne were "inadequate and in some respects dangerous".

The report said there "was no evidence that risk had been appropriately identified or managed, thereby potentially exposing vulnerable young people to further harm".

This prompted the government to extend a state-backed child sex abuse inquiry into Dublin's archdiocese -- the country's largest -- to also include Cloyne.

The statement from the Cloyne diocese said the appointment of Clifford to run the diocese would allow Magee "to devote the necessary time and energy to cooperating fully" with the government inquiry.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, said the pope's decision "is an indication of the importance which the Church gives to safeguarding children and caring for the needs of victims".

Pope Benedict's move on Cloyne is the second time Rome has intervened in an Irish sex abuse scandal.

In 1993 a clerical abuse scandal contributed to the collapse of the government and in 1999 former prime minister Bertie Ahern delivered an unprecedented apology to the victims on behalf of the state.

In 1999, Ahern set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which has yet to deliver its final report on scandals dating back to the 1930s in institutions such as schools, orphanages, hospitals and children's homes that were funded by the state but were mainly run by Catholic religious orders.

Running alongside the Commission is a compensation body for victims of abuse.

Some 825 million euros (1.04 billion dollars) has so far been paid out to about 10,800 of over 14,500 people who have sought compensation for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The average award was 65,300 euros, with 25 people receiving the maximum compensation award payable of between 200,000 and 300,000 euros.

Compensation has been sought by Irish people now living in more than 30 different countries with 40 percent of applications coming from women.

2009 Mar 7