Catholic bishops last night begged for forgiveness after issuing a blanket apology to everyone who has been affected by clerical child sex abuse.
The unprecedented statement came following a crisis meeting of top clergy in Maynooth yesterday on foot of last month's publication of the Murphy report into the clerical sex abuse.
It read: “We, as bishops, apologise to all those who were abused by priests as children, their families and to all people who feel rightly outraged and let down by the failure of moral leadership and accountability that emerges from the report.”
The bishops also asked that they they be forgiven for the culture of cover-up which they acknowledged was rife not only in the Archdiocese of Dublin but “widespread” within the Catholic church.
They also acknowledged that avoiding scandal and protecting the reputation of the Church and its hierarchy came before protecting children.
“We are deeply shocked by the scale and depravity of abuse as described in the report,” the statement read.
“We are shamed by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and recognise that this indicates a culture that was widespread in the Church.
“The avoidance of scandal, the preservation of the reputations of individuals and of the Church, took precedence over the safety and welfare of children.
“This should never have happened and must never be allowed to happen again. We humbly ask for forgiveness.”
The fallout from the damning report dominated the first day of the winter general meeting of the Irish Bishops' Conference.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will fly to Rome today ahead of tomorrow's meeting at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI, to brief him on their plans to restore “the moral authority of the Irish bishops” and to discuss the resignations of the 10 bishops criticised in the report.