THE Government is under intense pressure from outraged victims of clerical child abuse to order an immediate national probe of all 26 Catholic Church dioceses as well as religious and missionary orders.
The renewed calls for the State to subject the entire Catholic Church to a statutory investigation followed revelations yesterday that church authorities withheld a staggering 219 abuse complaints from its own independent watchdog.
The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) revealed that its final checks found that from April 1, 2010, until March 31, 2011, the actual number of complaints about sexual, physical or emotional abuse totalled 272.
The board, which in December 2009 was instructed by the bishops to conduct a comprehensive national audit of clerical child abuse, was initially told of only 53 new allegations.
In a further development, it was also revealed that the bishops and religious leaders later placed legal obstacles to impede the board from conducting its audit, which was widely expected to reveal the actual horrendous scale of clerical paedophilia in Ireland.
Dioceses and congregations claimed that data protection concerns prevented their participating in the audit, a position they have now modified. They have now agreed to cooperate with the board under strict confidentiality until its findings are eventually published.
Board chairmen John Morgan and chief executive Ian Elliott told a news conference yesterday that they would not be resigning "in the interest of children". Walking away does not solve the problem, they said.
But they admitted that their remit of compiling a national audit of all 26 dioceses had been delayed because of "legal difficulties" posed by bishops and religious orders, and that it was difficult to break down "a culture of clericalism".
As part of a confidential compromise agreement the board has begun an audit of three unnamed dioceses, but the process will take longer than first expected.
Last night the head of the One in Four victims' support group claimed that Mr Elliott's team was "clearly being impeded by forces within the church in their monitoring", and accused the church of consistently failing to reveal the full story of child sexual abuse until it was forced to do so.
Chief executive Maeve Lewis called on the Fine Gael-Labour Government to extend the work of the Murphy Commission of Investigation to the entire church in Ireland.
"Perhaps we need to expand the Murphy Commission's work to every diocese and congregation in the country if we are ever to appreciate the full extent of clerical sexual abuse," Ms Lewis said.
In November 2009 the Murphy report highlighted the horrific scale of abuse and cover-ups in the archdiocese of Dublin, which led to the church mandating its own board into conducting an internal national probe.
The Murphy Commission's remit was extended to the Cork diocese of Cloyne after Mr Elliott found that the then bishop, John Magee, had failed to implement national guidelines and had put children at risk of being abused.
Publication of the Cloyne report, which was expected before Easter, is still being delayed by legal difficulties relating to one cleric who faces a criminal trial this summer.
Last night an angry victim of abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, Andrew Madden, called for Children's Minister Frances FitzGerald to introduce legislation to put the Children First Guidelines on a statutory basis as a matter of absolute urgency.
Earlier, at a news conference in a Dublin city-centre hotel, Mr Elliott said that this year's figure of 272 allegations was an increase on last year's number of 197.
The vast majority of these cases are historic in nature and a precise breakdown was not currently available, he said.
Of the 272 allegations, 166 were against religious orders and 106 against priests in dioceses.
A total of 86 related to dead clerics or religious; 12 who are still in ministry and 174 who had been or were removed from ministry, retired or have left the clerical state through a process of laicisation.