A Catholic bishop criticised in the report into clerical abuse tonight told churchgoers his greatest regret was if his actions contributed to the suffering of a child.
Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray, who has rejected mounting calls for his resignation, said the priests’ actions blighted lives and destroyed people’s faith.
The shocking Murphy Report on child sex abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese found the bishop had handled a number of complaints badly and described his failure to investigate one allegation as inexcusable.
In a letter read at Masses throughout the Limerick Diocese over the weekend, the senior cleric apologised and asked his congregations for forgiveness.
“As I look back on that time, I ask myself many questions, especially about the three cases in which the report criticises me,” said Bishop Murray, who was based in Dublin from 1982 to 1996.
“At no time did I, as an auxiliary bishop of Dublin, receive an allegation of sexual abuse and fail to act.
“When an allegation of sexual abuse of children by a priest was brought to my attention, I responded promptly and conscientiously and in each case notified the Archbishop and Diocesan authorities and co-operated fully with them.
“I never deliberately or knowingly sought to cover up or withhold information brought to my attention.
“There were, as the report notes, occasions when roles/responsibilities were not clear or where I did not have full information concerning cases in which I was asked to become involved.”
Hundreds of allegations were covered up by senior churchmen over a 30-year period because they were obsessed with secrecy and upholding the reputation of the Church and its assets, the report found.
The primary loyalty of bishops and archbishops, who moved abusive priests from parish to parish, was to the Church, it said.
Survivors of abuse, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and some clergy have called for senior clerics still in office implicated in the report to step down.
But Taoiseach Brian Cowen has refused to be drawn into the controversy and said orders should decide on the future of bishops.
Mr Cowen said: “I believe that just as there must be no ambiguity about the fact that all institutions and individuals are answerable to the law of the land, whatever their status, it is for those institutions and their members to determine the appropriateness of any individual to hold ecclesiastical office.”
Bishop Murray assured church goers all complaints of child sexual abuse have been reported to the gardaí and health chiefs.
“The appalling statistics about child abuse suggest that every community has within it people who carry the burden of childhood abuse by clergy or by others,” he continued.
“What we must do now is to ensure that children who were abused, and the families and friends who love them, are at the centre of our prayers; we should be open to listening to them and to deepening our understanding of their suffering.”
The Taoiseach earlier said the Murphy Report was a crushing verdict that the good name and standing of the Church as an institution was placed above the basic safety of children.
“Where this was facilitated by servants of the State, it was a betrayal of trust and a complete abandoning of duty,” he added.
“It is a savage irony that a policy of cover-up that may have been borne of a misguided effort to avoid scandal has shaken the faith and confidence of many people.”