VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop, in one of the pontiff’s first efforts to address how bishops handled a sexual-abuse scandal that has affected a swath of Europe.
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In a one-line statement Wednesday, the Vatican announced the removal of Bishop John Magee, 73, from heading the Cloyne Diocese in the south of Ireland. Bishop Magee submitted his resignation to the pope this month, nearly two years after a government-ordered investigation documented the bishop’s failure to promptly report abusive priests to police.
“To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon,” Bishop Magee said in a statement Wednesday. “I welcome the fact that my offer of resignation has been accepted.”
Bishop Magee is one of Ireland’s first bishops to step down amid a scandal that has involved thousands of victims. Many adults across Europe have come forward recently with reports of alleged abuse that happened when they were minors.
The pope is under public pressure to crack down on abuse. His recent letter of apology to Irish Catholics was criticized by some victims and a number of Irish lawmakers for not announcing new measures to discipline the abusers and also for not cooperating more fully with civil authorities. Pope Benedict rebuked Irish bishops for failing to exercise proper oversight and apply church laws to abuse cases, but many critics said they were disappointed that he didn’t use the letter to dismiss Irish bishops.
The controversy has raised questions about the pope’s willingness to hold bishops accountable for priests in their dioceses who have committed sexual abuse. Since his election in 2005, Pope Benedict has met with victims and pledged to fight abuse, stripping sexually abusive clerics of their ministries. He hasn’t yet accepted the resignations of some of the other Irish bishops who offered to step down because of the scandal. The pontiff’s decision to accept Bishop Magee’s resignation within weeks is notable because popes traditionally take months, and sometimes years, to accept bishops’ resignations. Papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi declined to elaborate on Bishop Magee’s resignation.
The decision comes as new and more-recent sexual-abuse allegations emerged in Germany against a priest who was transferred to the archdiocese led by the pope 30 years ago and later returned to active ministry.
The accusations, which stem from 1998, are the latest against Rev. Peter Hullermann, who was allowed for years to continue working with children, even after being convicted of sexual abuse in 1986.
Father Hullermann, who was suspended from his duties last week, couldn’t be reached to comment. The latest allegations possibly open him to new criminal charges because they don’t exceed the German statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of abuse cases, according to the archdiocese.
On Wednesday, diocese officials in the German city of Essen said they, too, had received credible tips on two other possible instances of abuse by Father Hullermann during the 1970s, a few years before other, already known allegations triggered his transfer to the future pope’s archdiocese in Munich.
Earlier this month, church officials said the pope—who at that time was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger—signed off on a decision to house Father Hullermann at the archdiocese in 1980 for therapy. But they added that the decision to allow Father Hullermann to return to pastoral duty a month later was the full responsibility of a subordinate and that Pope Benedict was never made aware of the move. The archbishop left for the Vatican in 1982.
Four years later, in 1986, fresh allegations led to Father Hullermann’s conviction for sexually abusing minors. After a suspended sentence and a brief stint ministering in a nursing home, he was sent to the parish in Garching, a Bavarian town where he worked for 21 years.
The new allegations come from an individual—in 1998 a child in Garching—who on Tuesday contacted church officials. The archdiocese said it passed the information to state prosectors.
“The case has not exceeded the statute of limitations, and the potential victim was a minor at the time,” the archdiocese said in a statement. Regional prosecutors couldn’t be reached to comment.
Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, archbishop at the time of Father Hullermann’s transfer to Garching, apologized on Tuesday for allowing him to work there.
In Ireland, the nation’s highest-ranking prelate, Cardinal Sean Brady, recently apologized for his role in investigating cases of sexual abuse by priests during the 1970s but not reporting his findings to police.
In 2008, Ireland’s National Board for Safeguarding Children, an investigative panel ordered up by the government and funded by the Irish Catholic Church, documented Bishop Magee’s handling of two separate abuse reports.
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