The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, will ask the Vatican to remove four Irish bishops from office if they refuse to step down over the Murphy report into clerical child sex abuse cases in the Dublin archdiocese.
The dramatic split at the top of the Catholic Church in Ireland has emerged over the refusal of some bishops to accept responsibility for the abuse scandals detailed in the hard-hitting report.
Bishop of Galway Dr Martin Drennan, one of the four former auxiliary bishops who served in Dublin, is under pressure to resign to show “collective responsibility” for the abuse scandals.
The three other bishops facing resignation calls are Dublin auxiliaries Raymond Field and Eamonn Walsh, and the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Jim Moriarty, a previous auxiliary in Dublin.
The Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray, who was also an auxiliary bishop in Dublin before being promoted to Limerick, resigned from his position last week.
It has emerged that if the four bishops — who say they did no wrong — do not stand down voluntarily on the principle of collective responsibility, Archbishop Martin will petition the Congregation of Bishops in Rome to remove them early in 2010.
On Friday, the Irish Primary Principals' Network also wants the four bishops to be accountable for their actions — or inactions — in discharging their child protection responsibilities.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen backed Archbishop Martin's stance, saying it was “a time for leadership and accountability” in the Catholic Church. Mr Cowen said: “The resignation of Bishop Murray is a welcome indication that those who are in positions of leadership and responsibility in the Church are facing up to their responsibility in the light of the very clear findings of the Murphy Commission.”
However, neither Mr Cowen nor Justice Minister Dermot Ahern have any intention of expanding the investigations into all dioceses in Ireland.
Galway West Fianna Fail TD Frank Fahey said there is no reason for the Bishop of Galway, Dr Drennan, to resign.
Bishop Drennan mounted a robust defence of his position on RTE last Friday, hitting back at a call by Archbishop Martin to take collective responsibility for the report into a systematic cover-up of abuse complaints from victims of priests. He said his conscience was clear and he had no intention of resigning from office.
There was growing speculation yesterday that the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr Jim Moriarty, may take the decision to step down in the face of grassroots anger at his handling of sex abuse cases.
Some parents in Co Carlow have suggested they will remove their children from religious sacraments officiated by the bishop, a move that makes his position vulnerable.
Bishop Moriarty has said he does not consider that there are any grounds on which he should resign.
But several parents in one parish had decided not to allow their children to attend a Confirmation ceremony if Bishop Moriarty was officiating at it.