The Vatican on Saturday acknowledged "grave failures" in handling a child sex abuse scandal involving priests in southern Ireland as Dublin insisted the Holy See helped block investigations.
In its long-awaited response to an official report commissioned by the Irish government, the Vatican expressed deep concern at the findings and "abhorrence" at the crimes committed.
"The Holy See is deeply concerned at the findings of the commission of inquiry concerning grave failures in the ecclesiastical governance of the diocese of Cloyne," said the Vatican in its official response to the report.
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore acknowledged the Vatican's statement, but maintained that a 1997 letter from the then Papal envoy in Dublin "provided a pretext for some to avoid full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities".
July's publication of the report into more than a decade of abuse by priests in Cloyne sparked outrage in the Irish government and triggered an unprecedented attack by Prime Minister Enda Kenny who called the Roman Catholic Church's behaviour "absolutely disgraceful".
"I acknowledge the declaration by the Holy See that it is 'sorry and ashamed' for the terrible suffering of victims of child abuse in Ireland and their families," Gilmore said in a statement Saturday.
"However some of the argumentation advanced by the Holy See in its response is very technical and legalistic. The government's concerns were never about the status of church documents but rather about the welfare of children."
Ireland's Cardinal Sean Brady welcomed the Vatican statement, describing it as "carefully prepared and respectfully presented".
"The reply conveys the profound abhorrence of the Holy See for the crime of sexual abuse and its sorrow and shame for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have endured within the Church of Jesus Christ, a place where this should never happen."
While Pope Benedict XVI last year wrote a letter to Irish Catholics expressing shame and remorse over the abuse of children by members of the clergy, campaigners say the Church has been guilty of a cover-up.
In its statement on Saturday, the Vatican denied that it had tried to block inquiries by the Irish authorities.
"The Holy See wishes to make it quite clear that it in no way hampered or sought to interfere in any inquiry into child sexual abuse in the diocese of Cloyne," it said.
The official report condemned the Church's handling of abuse claims against 19 clerics in Cloyne, county Cork, between 1996 and 2009 saying it was "inadequate and inappropriate".
It said Magee, who resigned last year, had "to a certain extent detached himself from the day-to-day management of child abuse cases".
In language never before used by an Irish leader, an outraged Kenny later told parliament that the Church's inability to deal with the child-sex cases showed a culture of "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism" at the Vatican.
The Vatican subsequently recalled its envoy to Ireland in order to formulate an official response.
The Cloyne case is only the latest in a series of abuse scandals for the Catholic Church in Ireland that were first exposed in a 2009 report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by priests going back decades.
Church leaders in Ireland have also expressed outrage over the findings of the report. Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in July that "great damage has been done to the credibility" of the Church.
Source: AFP Global Edition