Cardinal Sean Brady's battle to survive as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland received a major blow after the Pope accepted the resignation of the disgraced Bishop of Cloyne.
The move has left the Irish church reeling amid renewed expectations that other heads are set to roll.
Speculation last night mounted that Pope Benedict would now seek Cardinal Brady's resignation.
Vatican insiders are tipping a tough Australian prelate to head a probe into the Irish Church which is expected to start next month.
A possible outcome of the Apostolic Visitation which Pope Benedict announced last Saturday is that Cardinal George Pell will propose Cardinal Brady's resignation or removal.
The Archbishop said he was ashamed he swore two children to secrecy after they were abused by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
But the Cardinal insisted he would not resign unless asked by the Pope. He set May 23, Pentecost Sunday, as the date on which he will announce his decision after a period of reflection and consultation.