John Magee (bishop)

John Magee (bishop)

Infobox ReligiousBio
background =
name = John Magee

religion = Roman Catholic
alias =
location = Ireland
Title = Bishop of Cloyne
Period = 1987 - present
Predecessor = Bishop John Ahern
Successor =
ordination = 1962
post =
previous_post =
present_post =
date of birth = September 24, 1936
place of birth = Newry, Northern Ireland
date of death =
place of death =

John Magee, SPS (b. 24 September 1936) is a Roman Catholic bishop. [ [ Catholic] ]

Early life

He was born in Newry [An tIúir] , Northern Ireland, in the Roman Catholic diocese of Dromore, on September 24 1936. He was ordained priest for St Patrick's Missionary Society (Kiltegan Fathers) on March 17 1962. He served as a missionary and was an official of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome, when he was chosen by Pope Paul VI to be one of his private secretaries. On Pope Paul's death he remained in service as a private secretary to his successor, Pope John Paul I.

He also acted as chaplain to the Vatican's Swiss Guard.

The death of John Paul I

It was John Magee who is said to have found Pope John Paul I dead in bed on the morning of September 28, 1978 though his public accounts of the event have been contradictory. John Cornwell in his book "A Thief in the Night", specially commissioned by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, after a thorough forensic examination of all the facts surrounding the late Pontiff's death was unable to exclude that the Pope's secretary was in some way unwittingly involved in the Pope's death.Fact|date=October 2007

In a radio interview in 1990, RTÉ religious affairs correspondent Kieron Wood asked Bishop Magee why he had claimed that he found the body of the dead Pope, when it was then public knowledge that the body had been found by a nun. "I did find the body of His Holiness," he replied. "I just didn't find it first."Fact|date=September 2008

ervice under John Paul II

He remained for a time in the same capacity with Pope John Paul II, elected on October 16 1978, but was in 1982 made papal Master of Ceremonies and continued in this post until on February 17 1987 he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Cloyne, in Ireland. He was consecrated bishop on March 17, 1987, St. Patrick's Day, by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basillica in the Vatican.

In January 2007, Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow and former private secretary of Pope John Paul II for forty years, published a book of reminiscences of his life with the Pope entitled "Una Vita con Karol" (Rizzoli, Milan). Although Dziwisz mentions other colleagues such as Archbishop Kabongo and Mons. Thu, who also acted as private secretaries to the Pope, he does not recollect John Magee at any point in the 250 page book. Vatican watchers do not regard the omission as an oversight but see it as a highly significant statement as to the authentic custodianship of the late Pontiff's memory.Fact|date=October 2007

Bishop of Cloyne

Bishop Magee has played a pivotal role in the Irish Episcopal Conference where he has been a leading figure in the modernization of the liturgy in Ireland, especially in championing the avant garde. His efforts on behalf of the Conference in relation to the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland have been similarly modernising, and cover the period in which the Catholic and Protestant scouting movements of Ireland joined together as a multi-denominational organisation. This promotes unity within the community and allows people of other religions to join scouting as well, which is an option that was previously unavailable to them.

Bishop Magee's pastoral strategy has always placed heavy emphasis on the promotion of vocations to the priesthood but, after some initial success, the number of vocations in the diocese of Cloyne entered a period of slow but certain decline, with numbers of seminarians dropping from 46 to 5. This trend is reflected all over the island of Ireland. However, with five seminarians, Cloyne is the fourth most populated seminarian group in Ireland, after Raphoe, Dublin and Meath. Bishop Magee has announced his intention of tackling the shortage of vocations by encouraging lay persons of both sexes to become active in Church life at all levels. He appointed Ireland's first female 'faith developer' and entrusted her with the task of transforming an Irish rural diocese into a cosmopolitan pastoral model using techniques borrowed from several urban dioceses in the United States. Bishop Magee is reportedfact|date=April 2008 to be happy with the initial results of the pilot programme and has made the faith developer's services available, free of charge, to the Irish Episcopal Conference.

Bishop Magee's moral authority in the diocese of Cloyne has, according to somewho, been impaired by his recent public dispute with the Friends of St. Colman's Cathedral, a local conservationist group in Cobh which has organised an effective and professional opposition to the Bishop's controversial plans to re-order the interior of Cobh Cathedral, plans similar to the much-criticized re-orderings seen in Killarney, Cork and Limerick cathedrals in recent years. In an oral hearing conducted by An Bord Pleanála, the Irish Planning Board, it emerged that irregularities had occurred in the planning application that were traced to Cobh Town Council which accommodated the Bishop's plans to modify the Victorian interior designed by E.W. Pugin and George Ashlin. On 2 June 2006, An Bord Pleanála directed Cobh Town Council to refuse the Bishop's application [] . Bishop Magee was in Lourdes when news of this broke.

Bishop Magee published a pastoral letter [ [ Pastoral letter, July 2006] ] in the diocese of Cloyne on 28-29 July 2006 explaining that he would not be challenging the decision of An Bord Pleanála by instituting a judicial review in the Irish High Court. A diocesan official explained that the bishop did not wish to proceed because of the financial implications of such an action and because of the bishop's desire to avoid a Church-State clash.

Claims that the decision of An Bord Pleanála infringed the constitutional property rights of religious bodies were dismissed when it was revealed that the cathedral is the property of a secular trust established in Irish law [] . It is estimated that Bishop Magee expended over €200,000 in his unsuccessful bid to modernize the interior of Cobh Cathedral to bring it into line with what he claimed were Vatican II guidelines. It is believed that a hefty contribution to the bishop's expenses was made by fellow trustee, Dr. Tom Cavanagh of Fermoy, before he resigned from the Cathedral Steering Committee in September 2006. So far Dr. Cavanagh has not been replaced on the committee, the delay possibly being prolonged by the Bishop's recent ill health. (cf. posting 3758 [] .

Public interest now focuses on who will pay the substantial bill incurred by the friends of St. Colman's Cathedral in representing the people of Cobh to preserve the cathedral in its former glory.

The Cobh Cathedral controversy recently drew further international attention as a result of a BBC World Service news item which emphasised the controversy's wider significance for what Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent for The Irish Times, referred to as the waning of Bishop Magee's influence and the irony of his having provoked the opposition of some of his closest supporters in the parish of Cobh by his desire to remodel the interior of St. Colman's Cathedral [] .

"Who's Who in Ireland" [2006] describes Magee as "remote [and] low profile". It comments that many ecclestiastical observers "expected him to return to Vatican City by now" and highlights the fact that the "red hat still eludes him" (cf. Who's Who in Ireland [2006] , p. 233). However, it can never be known whether Bishop Magee was offered (and rejected) the red hat of a cardinal.

Bishop Magee's failing health continues to be a source of concern for his diocese. In 2007, for the third year in succession, he has failed to complete his personal schedule of confirmations in Cloyne diocese. While this is unusual in Ireland, it would be the norm in America and mainland Europe for any bishop to delegate confirmations to locally-based priests due to the increased workload of bishops.

On 12 May 2007 prayers were requested for Bishop Magee who was admitted to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where he underwent a knee replacement operation. All official engagements were cancelled for the next ten weeks to allow the Bishop sufficient time to recuperate. After this ten-week period, the bishop, described as well-rested, began catching up on his work. The annual clerical changes were issued, and available on the Cloyne diocese website.

In July 2007 "The Last Confession" opened at the Haymarket Theatre in London's West End. The drama focuses on the power-broking Cardinal Benelli and events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I. In the play, the Pope's valet claims that Magee was responsible for the Pontiff's death and that he fled into oblivion after committing the act. The drama also includes a scene in which Magee is interrogated by a committee of cardinals and explains that he had to leave Rome after the Pope's death because he could not stay. The play is described as conveying a sense of grandeur tinged with doom, and progresses at the pace of a good thriller [] .

April 2008 brought renewed speculation that Bishop Magee was being considered for a position in the Roman Curia. The French left-wing clerical review, Golias reported that the Irishman was in the running to succeed as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The review suggests that Magee's support for the Latin Mass has won him the Pope's approval and it argues that the bishop's apparent lack of ambition and shyness eminently qualify him for a position in the Vatican [] .

In September 2008, as the world prepared to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of John Paul I, Magee gave an interview to the Italian weekly "Diva e Donna" in which he claims he breaks his silence for the first time on the events surrounding the death of John Paul I. In the interview, Magee states that he did not kill the Pope. He claims the Pope died of exhaustion brought on by the stress of the initial period following his election. He claims that he was regarded as a suspected and was even interview on the subject by INTERPOL. In Italian, he says the following: "Fui accusato d'aver avvelenato Papa Giovanni Paolo I, mi interrogo' persino l'Interpol", ha raccontato il segretario di Papa Luciani. “Ho passato momenti terribili e fu Wojtyla a salvarmi: aveva fiducia in me e mi nomino'". The full story can be found at this link:

International profile

On the death of Pope John Paul II he was greatly sought after by the media and spent much time in Rome, making himself available to the various Italian television channels. In a Christmas (2005) message to the diocese of Cloyne, Bishop Magee, commenting on how he learned over the phone of the grief being poured out by the people of his diocese at the Pope's death, explained that his "heart went out to all of them and [he] gave as much time as [he] possibly could to sharing [his] thoughts and, indeed, [his] grief through the various channels of the media". "Indeed I was most grateful to all the journalists who interviewed me on that occasion", said he [] .

Last "ad Limina" Visit

Bishop John Magee made what is expected to be his last "ad Limina" visit to the Vatican from 15-31 October 2006. The visit, which is made every five years, will next take place in 2012, almost a year subsequent to the bishop's 75th birthday in September 2011 when he will be required to offer to retire under section 401 of the Code of Canon Law.

Bishop Magee was happy to discuss the contents of his conversation with the Pope at a meeting of his liturgical advisers and diocesan clergy held in November 2006 at the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork City. The Bishop mentioned that he had been closely questioned on several aspects of his proposals to re-order Cobh Cathedral. It was obvious, he said, that the Pope had been kept well informed of the entire issue. However, an article by Kieron Wood in The Sunday Business Post in February 2006 [] suggested that Magee did not have the backing of the Vatican in his proposals for St Colman's. This, indeed turned out to be the case when at the oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála Magee was requested to provide a copy of the letter from the Vatican in which he claimed he had been given approval for the modernising of Cobh Cathedral. Unfortunately, the only letter he was able to produce to substantiate that claim was congratulatory latter dated 9 December 2003 [no. 158/99/L) to the team of architects who worked on the Cathedral project from Cardinal Arinze of the Congregation for the Sacraments which the Magee asked for. The full text of this letter is photographically reproduced in a publication called "Conserving Cobh Cathedral: The Case Stated" pp. 108-109.

It is understood that Bishop Magee's contribution to this visit concerned not only his diocese of Cloyne but also ceremonial matters (an area of expertise to Bishop Magee) on behalf of the Conference who were anxious to maintain good relations on important subjects with the various Vatican offices. Bishop Magee also facilitated the broadcasting of a life of Pope John Paul I on the Italian State Television (RAI) to coincide with the "ad Limina" visit. The programme had been made several months earlier. It is reported that the RAI broadcast drew mixed reactions, especially in Italian ecclesiastical circles. Official Vatican criticism of the film and those involved in it came swiftly in the form of an interview given to the Italian Catholic daily "Avvenire" on 26 October 2006 by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Secretary of State to Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Bertone queried the portrait of John Paul I painted by the RAI production.

Bishop Magee remained in Rome following the departure of the other Irish bishops as their representative at a meeting of the International Commission for Eucharistic Congresses.


* BBC World News Service, James Helm,
* Bishop John Magee, Memories of the late Pope John Paul II, Christmas Message 2005,

External links

* [ Was the Pope Murdered?]
* [ Bishop to sue over coverage of disputed sacking]
* [ Nation's wrath falls on bishop who wants to redesign cathedral]
* [ Vatican refuses to intervene in Cobh cathedral argument]
* [ Papal Secretary, Pro-Life Champions Reach Out to Class of 2006]
* [ Bishop intervenes on behalf of redundant sugar workers]

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