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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - An Irish Catholic bishop who was personal secretary to three popes became Wednesday the latest and biggest casualty in the child sexual abuse scandal that is convulsing the Church in Europe.
The Vatican said Pope Benedict had accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, Ireland.
Magee, 73, was accused in a 2009 investigation of mishandling reports of sexual abuse in his diocese. He quit his daily administrative duties a year ago and offered his resignation to the pope this month.
"To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon," Magee said in a statement.
Four other Irish bishops who have come under criticism for their handling of sexual abuse cases have offered their resignations to the pope. He has accepted only one of them.
There have been growing calls in Ireland for the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign over his involvement in covering up a case of sexual abuse when he was a priest in 1975. But Brady, who has defended Magee in the past, has not yet tendered his resignation to the pope.
The bishop from southern Ireland was the most high-profile head to roll in a scandal that has gripped Ireland and has spread to a number of other European countries, including the pope's native Germany.
In Germany, the government announced it had set up a panel to investigate cases of abuse of children in Catholic as well as Protestant and secular schools.
Magee was well known in the Vatican. He served as one of two personal secretaries to Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, and to his successor, John Paul I, who reigned for only 33 days. He kept that job for the first four years of the papacy of John Paul II and later served as Vatican master of ceremonies.
In 1981, Pope John Paul put Magee in the international spotlight when he dispatched him to Northern Ireland in an 11th-hour bid to try to persuade IRA members, including Bobby Sands, to end their hunger strike. Sands later died.
Magee, bishop of Cloyne since 1987, had been under fire for his handling of reports of sexual abuse in his diocese. He faced calls to resign in 2009 after a Church commission said his handling of abuse allegations had exposed children to risk.
After it was published, a number of Irish bishops openly expressed their lack of confidence in Magee, a native of Newry, Ireland, but it took him more than a year to offer his resignation.
In a statement on Magee's resignation, Brady said he understood the feelings of "those who feel angry and let down by the often inadequate response of the leaders of the Church."
The investigation into the Cloyne diocese was separate from an Irish government report on the cover-up of sexual abuse cases in Dublin archdiocese.
The Murphy Report, published in November, said the church in Ireland had "obsessively" concealed child abuse in Dublin from 1975 to 2004, and operated a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."
In a letter to the Irish people last Saturday, the pope apologized to victims of child sexual abuse in the overwhelmingly Catholic country and ordered an official inquiry.
But critics said the pope failed to address widespread calls in Ireland for a radical restructuring of the church there, nor did he say that bishops implicated in the scandal should resign.
(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Dublin, Christopher Lawton in Berlin, and Tom Heneghan in Paris; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
For more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at blogs.reuters.com/faithworld