ARCHBISHOP of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has denounced the Catholic Church for growing self-centred and arrogant before state-appointed commissions revealed the shocking scale of paedophile clergy.
Dr Martin made his remarks during Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Ballyfermot, the former parish of ex-priest Tony Walsh who was jailed last week for sexually abusing three boys.
In the parish where he grew up, Dr Martin, who ranks in the Irish hierarchy as number two after Cardinal Sean Brady, described the cover-up of paedophile priests as a symptom of a deeper malaise in the church.
He said he came to Ballyfermot yesterday to renew his apologies for the church's hushing up of Walsh's horrendous catalogue of abuse during the 1970s and 1980s.
"I apologise unreservedly," he said. "As I look back, I see more clearly that the catastrophic manner in which the abuse was dealt with was a symptom of a deeper malaise within the Irish church.
"The church had drifted into a position where its role in society had grown beyond what is legitimate", he said.
"It acted as a world apart," he told Mass-goers.
"It had often become self-centred and arrogant. It felt that it could be forgiving of abusers in a simplistic manner and rarely empathised with the hurt of children."
Dr Martin said the church had to honestly acknowledge "with no buts and no conditionality" the gravity and the extent of what happened as it takes a first step on the road to renewal.
Walsh (57), who was named in last year's Murphy Report on clerical child abuse in the Dublin diocese, was sentenced last Monday to 16 years in jail, with four suspended, for abusing three boys.
The now defrocked priest, known as Fr Filth and also as the Singing Priest for his Elvis impersonations at talent shows, was previously jailed for sexually abusing six other boys.
Dr Martin's comments came a day after the Wikileaks revelations about behind-the-scenes contacts between the Vatican and the Irish Government in the wake of the Murphy Report's publication last November.