A RETIRED auxiliary bishop of Dublin who was severely criticised by the Murphy Report has called on priests to question its findings of a cover-up of paedophile priests in the archdiocese.
Defiant Bishop Dermot O'Mahony has also circulated his heated personal correspondence with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who uncompromisingly accused him of "underestimating the degree of dismay and anger that people feel about the commission's references to you".
Archbishop Martin had claimed Bishop O'Mahony showed neither remorse nor apology for the mishandling of clerical child abuse complaints.
Early last month, he ordered the auxiliary bishop to refrain from administering the Sacrament of Confirmation in the diocese and to cease his association with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, which brings children with special needs to Lourdes.
On December 30, Bishop O'Mahony "willingly but with great sadness" accepted these restrictions.
But he said the letter from the Archbishop "was the harshest communication I have ever received from anyone during my 34 years as bishop and almost 50 years as a priest".
The publication by the 'Irish Catholic' of the explosive correspondence threatens to fuel a clerical revolt against Archbishop Martin's authority and it amounts to an incitement to clerical disobedience against the judicial findings of a state inquiry.
Publication of the letters sent between two senior churchmen is an extremely unusual breach of the normally tight-control of church information by ecclesiastical authorities.
Its cutting language will further divide the Irish bishops as they prepare for their summit in Rome on February 15 with Pope Benedict, especially as Bishop O'Mahony has sent copies of the letters to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Guiseppe Leanza.
Two other auxiliary bishops who resigned under pressure on Christmas Eve, Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field, are understood to feel sore about the manner in which Archbishop Martin handled his relations with them.
In an explanatory note to priests, Bishop O'Mahony writes that the background to the row was when he had voiced his regret at the Archbishop's lack of support for his clergy at a meeting of Dublin priests on November 30, four days after the release of the report.
"Unlike Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who defended the gardai and said 'it was a different time then', the Archbishop did nothing to counteract the statement of the Murphy Report, widely circulated in the media, that 'the majority of clergy knew and did nothing'," Bishop O'Mahony said.
This drew a curt retort from Archbishop Martin on December 2, when he wrote: "I regret -- and I know that this regret is shared by many believing people in the parishes in which you served -- that your commitment as auxiliary bishop to the priests and people of the diocese now appears tarnished by the findings of the report and your refusal to recognise that fact. "
Hitting back, Bishop O'Mahony told the Archbishop his criticisms of clergy "were unfair" and referred to his time abroad as a Vatican diplomat. "You were out of the diocese for 31 years and had no idea how traumatic it was for those of us who had to deal with allegations without protocols ... in the matter of child sex abuse"
Bishop O'Mahony called on priests to challenge "the acceptance by media and current diocesan policy that a 'cover-up' took place".
Bishop O'Mahony also said that he sent a letter of remorse to the Archbishop's Director of Communications before the Murphy report was published.
Annette O'Donnell has confirmed that the Archbishop knew about the letter of apology from Bishop O'Mahony.