Two reflections on Dr. Magee’s Interview. Brendan Hoban: Margaret Lee

Brendan Hoban
One of the ironies of Catholic Church life in Ireland today is that never before had we so many high powered communications people employed at such
huge cost for such a poor return. It is not their fault, of course, because every bishop is lord in his own diocese and the culture of deference that
assures them they are competent in every imaginable subject makes it almost impossible for them to actually accept that in certain instances they are
completely out of their depths. Part of the difficulty is that they seem not to understand how much the ground has moved under their feet.
Some years ago the late Cardinal Cathal Daly made the point, in an RTE interview, that part of the difficulty of dealing with the IRA was that it was impossible to communicate with them. The were in a time warp; they had tunnel vision; they didn’t seem to realise that time has moved on and that Ireland has changed. They were, he concluded, stuck with a particular mind-set that blocked communication.
His words are a metaphor for where we are as a Church now. And the interview given by the hapless Bishop Magee simply underlined the problems we have. We are, of course, coming from a low base. In sporting terms it¹s deep into the second half, we¹re several goals down, playing into a strong headwind, we’ve a second eleven on the field and some of those have been sent to the sideline. We have little to say, we¹re not able to say it and anyway few want to give us a fair hearing.
But there are rules that have emerged from the experience of dealing with difficult issues and there are people who know about them. There are things
you do and things you don’t do. And the Magee interview was an object lesson in what not to do. You don’t agree to talk to someone giving the impression
that you are being door-stepped. You don’t read out a statement or, if you feel you have to, you make sure that someone who knows something about words has a look at it beforehand. You don’t justify or explain, when the evidence is conclusive and the jury has already gone home. You turn up. You tell the truth. You hold up your hands. It¹s not brain surgery. It’s just being media savvy.
The difficult truth at present is that bishops are not believed or trusted. Even if they said the Our Father there would be something wrong with it. Old
men in black suits conjure up frightening, not reassuring images. Being Catholic is the last great stigma. To quote a man who found himself in a similarly impossible place, ‘We are where we are’.
The sad truth is that all of this (or much of it at least) could have been avoided. A People’s Church. Accountability, transparency, collegiality,
co-responsibility. That’s what, in effect, God said to us in the Second Vatican Council. But we knew better. And now we have old men in black suits
speaking a language no one wants to hear. It could have been so very different.

Margaret Lee
I have been listening to the media coverage of the Cloyne Report and, more recently, of Bishop Magee’s statement. I have little doubt but that Bishop Magee’s plea for forgiveness must be classed as a definite own goal. The facial expression, the language, the black suit all pointed to a man who is totally institutionalized, a man who appears to have no identity outside the clerical milieu.
Following Bishop Magee’s statement, I noted that some commentators opined that the “victims were destroyed” and that “they would never find peace”. I am surprised that no professional counsellor or therapist has come forward to challenge this pessimistic view. Is anyone ever going to say that we have some choices about our lives? Persons who have been abused had no choice when the abuse was happening and the abuser had full power over them. But those who have been abused have choices now. They can choose to hold on to the hurt for the rest of their lives, or to let it go. They are more than the abuse that was visited on them. When I hear some of their representatives speaking on the media, I get the sense that “closure” is not the outcome that they desire.

Margaret Lee

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  1. Margaret Lee, I’d expect that justice is the outcome that the victims desire and ought to have by now, the outcome that might provide some closure. That outcome is not within their power to choose. Will Bishop Magee face any prosecution, lawsuit, or other accountability for his actions?

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    I would have liked to see Bp Magee defend himself as Msgr O’Callaghan did. (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/0825/1224302935423.html) But he followed the drab script that the Vatican also seems to want (Abp Clifford told Msgr O’Callaghan to shut up). Perhaps that was best, as his performance is so utterly boring and pathetic that comment on it has quickly dried up.

  3. Margaret
    You are quite correct that closure is not the outcome desired by the representatives of the “victims” – see attached extract from a comment published by America Magazine in 2008.

    The Gardai have already investigated Bishop Magee’s conduct and the DPP advised last year that he had broken no law. I believe that the Minister for Justice ordered another investigation after the publication of the Cloyne Report. The gardai involved in these futile exercises might otherwise have been looking into child abuse today.

    Rory Connor

    Commentary on “Forgiveness Toward Our Fathers,” AMERICA Magazine, August 18-25, 2008.
    I was a victim of sexual assault. I use the word “was” because I remained a victim until I forgave my abuser and moved on with my life, a process that concluded some years ago. Having said that, I want to comment on “Mercy Toward Our Fathers” by Sister Camille D’Arienzo, and on some of what has been posted here in the aftermath of this excellent article.

    As a Catholic and sexual abuse “survivor,” I watched with much concern as the priesthood scandal unfolded in 2002.1 was riveted to the story of one of the victims, a middle -aged man who angrily revealed in front of TV cameras the harm done to him some thirty years ago. I listened as this man blamed everything that had ever gone wrong in his life on the priest who took advantage of him. I listened as his lawyer held press conferences describing why his scores of clients each deserved enhanced settlements from the Church (minus a 40 percent contingency fee, of course). Six years went by, and I recently listened again as the same man addressed a meeting of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) saying the very same things he said six years ago. The only addition – a six-figure settlement and a personal meeting with the Holy Father notwithstanding – was a claim that the Church has not done enough to ease his suffering or to respond to the crisis.

    I listened as someone in these pages equated such suffering with the horrors of the Holocaust. I have listened enough. I will not hear another word from these so-called survivors and groups like VOTF that seem intent upon enabling them to never move on. I have heard enough.

    It was the comparison with the Holocaust that has driven me over the edge. I have never before heard such narcissistic, self-serving, irresponsible rhetoric, and I will not hear any more of it. It offends every part of me, but it especially offends that part of me that worked so hard to recover from sexual victimization. Enough is enough. The sexual abuse of minors has been an epidemic in our society, and we have found a convenient scapegoat in the small percentage of priests who offended and in a Church that failed to act in 1975 as it would in 2005. There will not be true justice for victims until we move beyond the false notion that the Church and priesthood have been a special locus of sexual abuse, a myth that has benefited no one but personal injury lawyers and THEIR enablers in SNAP and VOTF. There will not be justice for victims until every institution in our culture embraces the transparency that has been embraced by the Catholic Church. Where is the public release of documents about accused clergy from other denominations? Why are public schools shielded from civil liability for abuse? Most alarming of all is the rhetoric about the so-called “cycle of abuse.” Why did Congressman Foley get to shift blame for his own misconduct on the priest he claimed abused him? The so-called cycle of victim-hood is such a convenient phenomenon. If it is true, then who is keeping an eye on the hundreds of middle-aged men who have received windfall financial settlements claiming abuse by priests in their childhoods?

    As long as we allow VOTF, SNAP [Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests] and others with an agenda to keep us bound up in the cycle of blame and vilification and loathing, there can be no healing for the victims, for the Church, for anyone. It is time for some of the so-called victim advocates in this picture to recognize that they are doing far more harm than good. I applaud Sister D’Arienzo for having the courage to write so openly against a seeming tidal wave of angry, unproductive rhetoric. Arguing for anything less than forgiveness and healing is to perpetrate and perpetuate abuse. It is time to turn off the TV cameras, send the lawyers packing, stop vilifying the new class of lepers we have created among the accused in our Church, and act like the Catholic Christians most of us strive to be.

    Santiago Cruz santiagocruz01@hotmail.com

  4. Margaret, what you have suggested here shows some degree of ignorance on this issue. “The abuse visitED upon them.”

    The fallout of that ‘hurt’ often permeatES every aspect of the individual’s life – maybe till the day he/she dies.

    If it were just the sex, being raped, groped behind a bus shelter or whatever – something wholly ‘in the past’ – then yes, it would perhaps be possible to let go far more easily – sooner. It can be. I know from experience.

    This kind of ‘hurt’ is not just a past event. I don’t know anyone who would not rather “let go of…. the hurt.”

    Some can, as you suggest, just choose to let it go – end it; and that’s exactly what they do – end it, their lives, as the damage permeates (not permeatED) every aspect of that life, and they have no idea where to begin to undo the damage begun, happening, that causes them such pain. They cannot begin to understand what’s ‘wrong’ in/with them.

    Of course the person is more than the abuse they suffer.

    They need to be helped to understand this – and that takes time and the care of a professional, not a ‘confessor,’ and certainly never a lawyer.

    And the ‘sufferer’ should be the one ‘to choose’ – not you or people like you here.

    Forgiveness and healing, I believe too, is the ‘justice’ at the end in this.

    Remembering, grieving, UNDERSTANDING, forgiving – then healing.

    It’s a little more than just choosing to ‘let go of the hurt visitED….. ‘

    If you are all sick and tired listening to ‘victim’s’ representatives, which it seems you are and I can understand this – that’s well and good. I’ve heard some of them too and did not like endlessly being referred to as ‘victim/survivor’. I wanted to live again – not exist labelled as something ‘less than’.

    I see you and others here doing the very same thing you accuse the ‘representatives’ of doing – speaking on behalf of, telling those ‘victims/survivors’ who they are, should be – what they should feel and do. Physician heal thyself.

    I am sure the reason no serious professional has come to speak on this matter, as you suggest, is because they understand it a lot better than you do.

    I’d like to read that ‘Mercy Towards Our Fathers.’

    I agree with his/her thoughts on forgiveness and healing – but feel that he/she should recognise that it’s as much a journey for others as it’s been for him/her. You cannot tell, force a person to forgive, heal from something they have not even begun to understand.

    Not to forget that the ‘hurt visitED upon’ is often wholly and completely compounded by the treatments received when going in good heart and faith to the ‘hierarchy’ of the Church.

    I can tell you for a fact – that was FAR worse than the original ‘hurt’. I didn’t run to lawyers. They did. It almost ended in tragedy – but I was able to use a ‘religious’ rule to get them to call off their dogs.

    I’d love to know how he/she, in the latter piece got to that place where he/she was able to forgive and move on. I’d also really like to know why he/she is still so angry.

    Methinks he/she doth protest too much. Though I agree with much of what is being said, suggested.


  5. The article “Mercy Towards our Fathers” by American Sister of Mercy Camille d’Arienzo is at

    There are 43 comments – including the one by Santiago Cruz but there is a problem with opening the Comments section – maybe a virus so don’t try! However you can find a very interesting reply to Mr Cruz by a Mr. Ryan A. McDonald in another article “Treatment of Convicted Sex Offenders” on the “Alliance Support” website

    In April 2009 I sent the two comments to the RTE Radio programme “The Spirit Moves”. They were having a discussion on how to treat sex offenders after they are released from prison. The presenter Myles Dungan read out a lot of hate filled texts and emails – and towards the end read the following quotation by Santiago Cruz;

    I was a victim of sexual assault. I use the word “was” because I remained a victim until I forgave my abuser and moved on with my life, a process that concluded some years ago.

    A guest from the Rape Crisis Network responded by saying that paedophile fathers are skilled at manipulating family members whom they abuse and that persuading a child to forgive can be a form of emotional manipulation!

    It appears to me that the Rape Crisis people want to keep their clients in a constant state of victim-hood in order to maintain their own power by preventing healing!! The same applies to many leaders of “Victims'” groups.

  6. Rory, Although I wrote my comment with victims in mind, it is not only for the sake of the victims that justice is needed. It is also for the community, especially parents, and for the Church itself, which has not yet understood the need for systemic reform to prevent more abuse in the future.

    You seem to think that forgiveness is a substitute, or perhaps a more noble way of dealing with sexual abuse of children, than justice. But justice and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. Victims need justice because they need to hear the voice of the community declaring (for example, in a jury’s verdict of ‘guilty’) that the abuse was criminally wrong and the courts will coerce the abuser to prevent his further transgressing. As those who have ventured to help victims heal might say, one of the obstacles to both healing and forgiving is the victim’s unwarranted sense of guilt. A jury’s verdict can make a difference to the victim’s psychology. As a society, we have developed institutions to deal with crimes, and victims can benefit from letting those institutions do the work they are designed to do. Justice wrought by the criminal justice system is a good starting place for forgiveness.

  7. Father Hoban
    A large amount of what you say seems to be totally irrelevant to the Catholic Church today. “Every bishop is lord in his own diocese and the culture of deference that assures them they are competent in every imaginable subject…!!!” Where have you been living for the past 40 years plus? Similarly in relation to Bishop Magee: “You don’t justify or explain, when the evidence is conclusive and the jury has already gone home. You turn up. You tell the truth. You hold up your hands.”

    (1) Regarding the “culture of deference” you are aware that the media have been telling obscene lies about priests and bishops since at least 1994. I have written an essay about false sex allegations directed at SEVEN Irish bishops between 1994 and 2008.
    These comprise Bishop Magee himself (accused twice in 1994 and 1999), the late Archbishops Cahal Daly, John Charles McQuaid, and Thomas Morris, Bishops Brendan Comiskey and Eamon Casey and the late Bishop Peter Birch.

    You are aware that Bishop Magee himself was the target of the initial libel in April 1994 when the UK Guardian was forced to apologise for claiming that an unnamed Irish Bishop was a member of a paedophile ring.
    A few months afterwards the government of Albert Reynolds collapsed as a direct result of Pat Rabbitte’s suggestion that there was a conspiracy between Cardinal Daly and Attorney General Harry Whelehan to prevent the extradition of Fr Brendan Smyth. This was followed by an obscene media onslaught against Bishop Comiskey when he went to the USA for treatment for alcoholism. In 1999, TV3 had to apologise for a second (and unrelated ) slander against Bishop Magee while shortly afterwards John Cooney published a biography of Archbishop McQuaid in which he accused him of making sexual advances to underage boys. (This allegation as rejected even by reviewers who praised the remainder of the book!). You are aware that Cooney was made Religious Affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent a few years after the publication of his scurrilous book. (Try to imagine a journalist who similarly slandered a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, being appointed to the staff of the Irish Catholic.)

    On 9 November 2005 Minister of State Liz O’Donnell made a statement to the Dail calling for an end to the “Special Relationship” between Church and State, recalling the “many battles mostly lost between Church and State” of which “the non-extradition of Fr Brendan Smyth” and the “related intrigue in the Attorney General’s office” were listed as two. In what way did the State lose this supposed battle with the Church; after all the government fell and Harry Whelehan resigned as President of the High Court? Presumably Ms O’Donnell resented the fact that the allegation against Cardinal Daly was shown to be a lie and for anti-clerics like her, that counts as a defeat!

    One correspondent in the Irish Independent commented:
    “Ms O’Donnell’s description of the special relationship that exists between the Catholic Church and the State almost beggars belief. For at least 35 years the only thing special about Catholicism in Ireland is that it is the only major religion practised in the country which politicians have felt free to deride, insult and offend with impunity and without fear of condemnation by a press as hostile to religion as it is hostile to truth.”

    I must say that I find this analysis much more convincing than your own. Moreover in what way would your formula of “A People’s Church. Accountability, transparency, collegiality, co-responsibility” have made any difference? Certainly MOST of the Bishops libeled by the media would be regarded as conservatives, but the vile onslaught against Bishop Comiskey was launched shortly after Cardinal Daly had reprimanded him for questioning clerical celibacy! (Similarly in the USA, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was subjected to obscene abuse by the media in 1993 – he was unpopular with traditionalists but it wasn’t THEY who accused him.).

    (2) Regarding “the evidence is conclusive” in relation to Cloyne, I won’t repeat all I have already said in a previous article. However Bishop Magee was slandered for a third time when Judge Murphy devoted a key chapter of her report to an allegation against him that had nothing to do with a child OR with sex abuse.

  8. Dear Rory, I must defend my good friend and fellow countryman,John Cooney, against your description of his biography of McQuaid as being “Scurrilous”. I know that there are at least two priests in Dublin who can confirm the allegations John made in his book againt the Archbishop.

    On another matter: would any priest in the diocese of Cloyne tell me how much he conributed to the purchase of a £28,000 Ford Scorpio car as a gift to Bishop Magee, some months after he arrived in Cobh?

  9. I wonder what the Lord himself would make of it all? Surely, he would say we had turned his Father’s house into a house of traffic. Money changers everywhere, lawyers, interest groups, expert advisors, accountants, media gurus, communications consultants! The latter is the last straw. Can a bishop or archbishop not just tell a straight tale without the help of word spinners and media advisors? Can he not just tell the truth in other words? Both Archbishop Clifford and Bishop Magee sound self-serving and unconvincing despite the army of professionals helping them. Is it not apposite that the prophets of old from Jeremiah through to Paul were chosen for their punch rather than their polish? Would the Gospel ever have been communicated if it had to be filtered through ‘the wisdom of the age’, distilled into palatable sound bites? Whether through homilies, writings, press statements, interviews, the Ministers of the Gospel should be mindful of their mission which was never about news management, damage limitation and public relations. Yes, Brendan Hoban is right,we need accountability and transparency. Most of all we need clear and unequivocal witness to the Gospel and its values. The Irish hierarchy are acting like our politicians and, like them, they fool nobody.

  10. Martin
    It is indeed strange that these “at least two priests” have not come out into the open because John Cooney would definitely welcome their support.

    In an article in the Sunday Herald on 7 November 1999, Rob Brown – another fellow countryman of John Cooney – wrote (in an article called “Unholy Row as Sensationalist Scot Digs Dirt in Dublin”):

    In the course of publicising the book over the past week, extracts from which will start to appear today in the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, Cooney has called on the Dublin government’s recently appointed investigative commission on child abuse to look into Browne’s claim and to allow access to reports of former school inspectors.

    In the course of his radio debate with [Eamon] Dunphy, the Scottish scribe also resorted to an on-air appeal for anyone to bring forward any filth they had on the former Archbishop. It sounded like a somewhat desperate plea for a whistleblower to help him firmly establish what half a decade of supposedly painstaking research had evidently failed to do.

    I definitely would not rule out the existence of priests who would claim (anonymously of course) that the late Archbishop was a homosexual paedophile. When the UK Guardian was forced to publish an apology for libeling an unnamed Bishop (actually John Magee) in April 1994 they wrote that:

    The Guardian accepts that the article contains no evidence to substantiate such a serious and damaging allegation, which was made to us by sources within, or close to, the Catholic Church, whom we believe to be responsible and reliable, and who identified a bishop by name. We confirm that we did not put the claims made by our sources to official representatives of the institutional church.

    In an article in the Sunday Independent on 10 April 1994, Sam Smyth was more specific about the Guardian’s source:

    Eight days ago an article by Susie MacKenzie in The Guardian weekend supplement about celibacy and the Catholic priesthood made a reference to a bishop’s involvement in a paedophile ring. It outraged the Catholic Hierarchy who apparently considered taking a class libel suit on behalf of the country’s 30 bishops. On Friday the Bishop’s Conference announced that they had made a formal complaint to the Guardian and Bishop Thomas Flynn said they were “highly offended”.

    The Guardian said it is taking the complaint “very seriously”. The source of the information on which the ‘bishop and paedophile ring’ allegation was made is understood to be a priest.

    The priest who slandered Magee STILL has not come forward with any proof, seventeen years later – or even disclosed his own identity. (I have a pretty good idea who he is.) It is 12 years since John Cooney slandered John Charles McQuaid, but his clerical supporters – assuming they exist – also prefer to keep their “evidence” and their identity to themselves.

  11. An t’Athar Hoban!

    Apropos the difficulty the late Cardinal Daly had in communicating with the IRA. Whilst one is reluctant to speak ill of the dead, might the difficulty in ‘communication’ not have been partly to do with the late Cardinal’s antiquated monological and dictatorial style of ‘communication’, a case of projection I respectfully suggest. Power corrupts, and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. Dictators, whether ecclesiastical or secular, rarelly display refined active listening skills. Less so when they falsely assume to be in possession of a universal truth applicable at all times and in all places.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Communicating with a terrorist organization in the full flush of their activity is possible only if you use a rhetoric they can use for their purposes.

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