updated 12/11/2009 1:50:12 PM ET 2009-12-11T18:50:12

Pope Benedict XVI says he is "deeply disturbed and distressed" by a child sex-abuse scandal in Ireland and will write a letter to Catholics there on the church's response.

Benedict met Friday with senior Irish clergy in the wake of a government report that said Church leaders covered up widespread sexual abuse of children for 30 years .

The report was issued last month after a government-ordered investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese. It found that the church shielded more than 100 child-abusing priests from the law.

The Vatican said after the 90-minute talks that the letter to the faithful of Ireland "will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the situation."

The Nov. 26 report said the church in the overwhelmingly Catholic country had obsessively hidden child abuse during the period of an inquiry, which covered the handling of abuse reports by the archdiocese of Dublin from 1975 to 2004.

"The Holy Father was deeply disturbed and distressed by its contents. He wishes once more to express his profound regret at the actions of some members of the clergy who have betrayed their solemn promises to God, as well as the trust placed in them by the victims and their families, and by society at large," the statement said.

Attending the talks at the Vatican were Irish Cardinal Sean Brady, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and the Vatican’s representative to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza.

“The Holy Father invited the Catholic world to pray for the victims, the survivors of child sexual abuse, and he said that the Holy See will be following very closely to discover how this tragedy took place,” Brady told reporters after the meeting.

'Don't ask, don't tell'
The Murphy report said the church operated a policy of "don't ask, don't tell" about abuse.

All Dublin archbishops in charge during the period were aware of some complaints and the archdiocese was more preoccupied with protecting the reputation of the church than safeguarding children's welfare, the report said.

Friday's Vatican statement said the pope was asking for prayers for the victims of "these heinous crimes" and promised that the Vatican would "develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence."

It said the pope and the Vatican took the issues raised by the report "very seriously" including "questions concerning the governance of local church leaders with ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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