Ireland's most prominent Roman Catholic leader, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, questioned Tuesday whether all of his fellow bishops adequately protect children from sexually abusive priests.
Martin became the first Irish Catholic leader to break silence over a new report into allegations that two priests molested several teenagers, chiefly in the 1990s, in southwest Ireland — and the local bishop, John Magee, didn't tell police quickly and fully about it as he was supposed to do.
Recurring scandals on the coverup of decades of abuse by Catholic clergy have rocked Ireland since 1993, when an Irish government collapsed over the issue.
Catholic leaders have since struggled to contain the financial and moral damage through a series of initiatives that encourage people to report abuse, most recently by forming an independent commission that investigates church handling of complaints.
But the first major report from the chief investigator, Ian Elliott, was withheld from publication for six months by church and government authorities. It was published late Friday — when Ireland's media were consumed with a banking scandal — and received little immediate attention.
Report: Complaints went unreported
The report found that Magee and his senior advisers in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne fielded a range of complaints from parishioners about two priests from 1995 onward — but told the police nothing until 2003 and little thereafter. The report said Cloyne church authorities appeared to be solely concerned about helping the two priests, not protecting the children of the area.
One priest, who was accused of molesting a younger priest when he was just a boy, was encouraged by Magee to resign. But the investigation found that the bishop shielded the abuser's identity from police — and considered such concealment "the normal practice" for the church.
The other priest, a career guidance counselor in a convent school, was accused by several teen-age girls and grown women of molesting or raping them since 1995. One complaint came from a woman who had a consensual sexual relationship with the priest for a year — then saw him develop an intimate relationship with her teen-age son.
The report did not identify the priests and they have never faced criminal charges.
Magee faced rising calls Tuesday from lawmakers and pressure groups to quit. He refused to comment.
But Martin — a former Vatican diplomat who wields the most political clout in Ireland's Roman Catholic hierarchy today — suggested that the Cloyne bishop should step aside for new leadership and help restore public confidence.
"He should make the decision which is in the best interests of child protection," the archbishop told Ireland's state television station, RTE.
Concern problems more widespread
And in a carefully worded statement, Martin stressed he was "extremely concerned" that the problems uncovered in Magee's diocese could be more widespread. He called on all of Ireland's bishops to confirm whether they were following the Irish church's decade-old official policy of openness and investigation.
Martin said his own archdiocese, home to a third of Ireland's more than 3 million Catholics, was committed to protecting the public from abusers. But he noted that Dublin's churches also hosted hundreds of priests from other dioceses and orders whose priests answer to their own leaders, not him.
Martin said the church's anti-abuse policies had a "purported" common status in every diocese, but he had "serious doubts ... concerning the coherence and consistency of approach."
The archbishop called on other bishops and religious orders to confirm to the investigator, Elliott, that they are committed to reporting abuse reports to police and other authorities "in a uniform way." If Elliott could not confirm these commitments, Martin warned, he would impose "his own system of accountable child protection" on all Catholic clergy living or working in his sprawling constituency.