Catholics across Ireland were attending Christmas Day Mass today as two more bishops resigned in the wake of a devastating clerical child abuse inquiry.
Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field bowed to weeks of intense criticism and pressure, announcing at services across Dublin that they planned to quit their posts as auxiliaries in the archdiocese.
They are the latest senior clerics to stand down after Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin James Moriarty and Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray resigned over the damning Murphy report.
It exposed the Catholic hierarchy's shocking inaction and cover-up of paedophile priests over decades.
Bishops Walsh and Field announced their resignations in a statement as Midnight Mass took place around the country.
"As we celebrate the Feast of Christmas, the Birth of our Saviour, the Prince of Peace, it is our hope that our action may help to bring the peace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ to the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse," they said.
"We again apologise to them."
The bishops added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have so bravely spoken out and those who continue to suffer in silence."
Last night in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin - who stopped short of publicly calling for resignations but repeatedly pressured senior churchmen who have served in the capital to reflect - described 2009 as a painful year for the Church.
"The diocese failed its most vulnerable members. The archdiocese failed to recognise what was to be done," the Archbishop said.
Dublin Labour councillor Aodhan O Riordain attended Midnight Mass in Malahide, north of the city, where the bishops' resignations were announced.
"The timing of the announcement is open to question, but the resignations are welcome nonetheless," Mr O'Riordain said.
"It is now time for a full and frank debate about the relationship between the church and state institutions in Ireland, especially education.
"As a principal of a Catholic school, I feel we can hide from that debate no longer."
The Murphy inquiry, based on a sample 46 priests, revealed a catalogue of paedophilia and subsequent cover-ups over three decades because the Catholic hierarchy was obsessed with secrecy and was effectively granted immunity by the police.
Archbishop Martin told Mass-goers last night that the diocese must now be called to renewal by recognising what happened in the past, accepting responsibility for it and investigating criminal behaviour.
In his homily he said it would be foolish to say this was the happiest Christmas in his life or for many in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Archbishop Martin said the interests of the ordained had been given priority over the needs of the baptised.
"It has been a painful year. But the Church today may well be a better and safer place than was the Church of 25 years ago when all looked well, but where deep shadows were kept buried," he continued.
"The church in Dublin is called to conversion and to renewal."
He said when survivors turned to a priest, they were met by betrayal of priesthood through abuse.
But Archbishop Martin maintained there were also great priests in the diocese.
"They too feel betrayed," he said.
"Many feel that I have not defended them enough and not supported them adequately at this moment.
"If I have failed them, from this mother church of the archdiocese I ask their pardon. I recognise their dedication and I am sure that the people of the diocese do too.
"Similarly from this mother church of the archdiocese I repeat my words to survivors: no words of apology will ever be enough for the hurt caused and the way your hurt was brushed aside."Reuse content