The miserable fall of a right hand man to three Popes

Staying with a Roman Catholic theme, as a BBC commentator for the visit of Pope John Paul 11 to Ireland, in 1979, I remember well the pride felt locally for Newry-born Papal secretary John Magee, who was credited with a major role in organising the visit. Magee was already about to be engulfed in mounting controversy, named wrongly at first as the man who discovered the dead body of JP1, rather than make the dreadful admission that a nun, an actual woman, had been the first to enter the ultimate male preserve of the Pope’s bedroom. The consequence of one lie was the hugely inflated one of the conspiracy to murder the naïve but allegedly radical Albino Luciani for wanting to demolish much of the Vatican superstructure and exile some of its powerful luminaries to the horrors of pastoral work. He was also thought to be planning to reverse Pope Paul V1’ s encyclical Humane Vitae, banning artificial contraception. Since then Magee has had little luck or indeed shown much judgment over vital issues. The secrecy which began to dog him at the Vatican now appears to be his final undoing, in the relative backwater of Cloyne. In some ways it is a strange fate for such a meticulous man to break procedure under canon law for dealing with abuse claims. Despite his defiance, he will find it hard to resist the clamour for him to quit. Christmas masses in Cobh will be tense affairs this year, if Bishop Magee turns up robed and mitred.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London