More than 100 Dublin priests suspected of child sex abuse

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As the Irish government prepares to launch an inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, new figures from the Dublin area show that more than 100 priests have been accused of sex abuse.

The report, from the Archdiocese of Dublin, records 350 accusations of abuse against 102 priests since 1940. The number of accusations is likely to grow in the course of the 18-month government inquiry, since the Church has encouraged victims who have never registered complaints to come forward.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said the archdiocese was publishing its findings before a commission is formed later this month to investigate the handling of abuse.

The Church has been criticised in recent years for under-reacting and has faced allegations it is more concerned with protecting itself than full disclosure and tackling the problem head-on. The bishops are now adamant that every possible effort will be made to assist the authorities and to deal properly with any fresh cases. Since almost 3,000 priests worked in Dublin over the last 66 years, the Church's figures suggest that roughly one in 30 of these has been the subject of allegations.

The inquiry, which will be headed by Yvonne Murphy, a circuit court judge, is likely to produce another hugely damaging report into clerical abuse and the response of bishops.

Several months ago a horrific saga of abuse was exposed in damning detail in a report on the Diocese of Ferns, which is centred on the town of Wexford. The report criticised both priests and the Vatican itself for inadequately responding to more than 100 allegations against 21 priests and for standing by while children suffered "horrendous damage".

The shock-waves it generated dealt a strong blow to the Church's moral authority. A score or more of priests have been jailed over the years, and a number have been de-frocked.

The new inquiry will stretch back only to 1975, examining a representative sample of complaints. The authorities have also contacted individual bishops to ask them whether they are now handling complaints effectively.

The government will run its own independent checks.

The Dublin archdiocese, in its latest figures, says around 350 victims have been identified and a further 40 have yet to be traced.

Eight Dublin priests have been jailed while more than 100 civil actions have been brought against 32 priests. Forty such cases are in progress, while 65 have been settled at a cost of almost €6m (£4.2m).Meanwhile, more than 1,000 former residents of church institutions such as industrial schools and orphanages have recounted their experiences to a separate child abuse commission, 400 of them giving evidence of alleged maltreatment.

In January, a parliamentary committee was told that the compensation to be paid to such victims could reach €1.35bn. Almost 15,000 such cases have been lodged, with average payments to victims of €76,000.

In 2002, church institutions handed over cash and property worth almost €130m towards compensation costs, with the state agreeing to pay the rest. Without this arrangement, it was said, the Catholic Church in Ireland could find itself bankrupt.