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Irish bishop is first to quit over child sex abuse scandal

An Irish bishop flew to Rome yesterday to hand in his resignation after days of angry and intense pressure over his handling of cases of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick (pictured), gave every sign of acting with great reluctance, after spending some days apparently playing for time in the hope of keeping his post. But the wave of shock and horror which followed publication of a damning report, which revealed a systematic high-level church cover-up of the abuse of children by priests, is in effect sweeping him from office.

The report revealed that archbishops of Dublin had over a quarter of a century ensured that the activities of paedophile priests were kept secret. The result was that in many cases priests were left free to continue their abuse. The report concluded, and the Irish public has accepted, with dismay and sustained rage, that the church routinely placed its own image ahead of the protection of vulnerable children. In the case of Bishop Murray, pictured, the report concluded that he had acted "inexcusably" in one case, and that he had handled other complaints and suspicions badly.

One attempt at mitigation, pleading that he was a relatively inexperienced bishop, has been undermined by the fact that he was a professor of moral theology with a particular expertise in ethics.

The sense of outrage against the church is so strong that although he is the first clerical casualty of the affair he may not be the last. The report concluded that various other churchmen were also guilty of acts of both omission and commission.

Most unusually, criticism has not been confined to the Irish church but is also being made of the Vatican itself.

Rome did not respond to repeated letters from the commission which produced the report, and since it appeared has refrained from offering any detailed response beyond generalised expressions of sorrow.

This has not been enough for the Irish government, with Foreign Minister Micheal Martin expressing "deep disappointment" at Rome's response. He complained: "The Pope has not responded yet to the appalling revelations of the Murphy inquiry."

The papal nuncio, who is in effect the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland, has been summoned to the Irish foreign office to give an explanation. Mr Martin said: "We will be pointing out that we need a substantive response."