A massive investigation into clerical child abuse in all 26 Catholic dioceses is to begin shortly after every bishop in the State last week received an ultimatum to provide the Health Service Executive (HSE) with a complete list of hundreds of new complaints.
It also emerged that private talks have been taking place between officials of the Department of Health and Children and the Catholic bishops' independent child-protection watchdog to find a formula to allow Church and State to cooperate in finding out the full scale of clerical abuse.
HSE assistant director for children and family services, Phil Garland, has written to every bishop and religious orders in the State -- instructing them to send details of all complaints received in the past five years by registered letter. The deadline is January 8.
The Government and church hierarchy are both opposed to slow-moving and costly judicial investigations into child abuse -- such as those that have taken place in the dioceses Ferns, Dublin and Cloyne.
Talks are at an advanced stage for the Oireachtas to empower Ian Elliot, head of the Catholic Church's National Board for Children, to conduct an all-Ireland investigation.
Mr Elliott, a Presbyterian, would quickly undertake a search of all diocesan files in cooperation with the HSE.
This new dragnet of all dioceses will intensify pressure on four bishops named in the Murphy report to resign or risk being fired by the Vatican in the New Year.
Parishioners and a former government minister, Frank Fahey, rallied yesterday behind embattled Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan -- a former auxiliary bishop of Dublin named in the Murphy report.
Bishop Drennan has insisted he will not follow the resignation route taken last week by Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray. He has demanded that Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, remove him from the list of four bishops Dr Martin will petition Rome to sack if they don't resign first.
Bishop of Kildare, Jim Moriarty, who had indicated he would take early retirement, this weekend consulted priests on whether he should go sooner rather than risk being boycotted at confirmation ceremonies by angry parents of young children.
Dublin auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, who have said it would be unjust for them to step down as suggested by Dr Martin, are to give their responses to him at meetings after the Christmas and New Year church services.
In Dublin, 131 fresh complaints were filed with Dr Martin before the November 26 publication of the Murphy report, which resulted in hundreds of new calls to victims' support helplines and gardai.
Since the Ryan report into abuse by religious orders in industrial schools and reformatories was published last May, gardai have been investigating over 500 allegations.