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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK
Bishops discuss child abuse
Ireland's Catholic bishops have met in County Kildare to discuss the issue of child sex abuse.

It is understood more details about the internal audit which will be carried out in each diocese in Ireland were discussed.

The discussions followed the Irish Government's decision to set up an inquiry into child sex abuse by priests and members of religious orders.

The bishops of all the 26 dioceses - in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - attended the meet at St Patrick's College in Maynooth.

Dr Patrick Walsh: Pastoral letter
Dr Patrick Walsh: "Share the shame"

Last week, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, said he shared the "confusion and shame" felt by so many over the clerical sex abuse scandal.

The Catholic Church's investigation into allegations of child sex abuse will go back more than 60 years.

The independent audit will be carried out by lay people who are experts in child protection and legislation.

Dr Walsh said a "vital part" of the healing process was to establish the truth about how complaints were dealt with by the church.

The bishop said the protection of children was of paramount importance.

Cardinal Desmond Connell: Deeply aware of the damage
Cardinal Desmond Connell: Deeply aware of the damage

Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, has spoken of the "evil of child sex abuse by priests".

The cardinal said he was deeply aware of the damage it was causing the Catholic Church, and said the church would take whatever further action was necessary.

Earlier this month, an emergency meeting was held at Maynooth when the church revealed it was establishing its own inquiry into how it dealt with such complaints.

String of scandals

The latest controversy followed allegations that Father Sean Fortune - a Catholic priest who committed suicide three years ago - sexually abused children.

The Pope has accepted the resignation of Dr Brendan Comiskey, the Bishop of Ferns in County Wexford, following criticism of how he handled the case of Father Fortune.

Bishop Brendan Comiskey
Bishop Brendan Comiskey admitted he had not protected children

Dr Comiskey admitted he had not done enough to protect children in his County Wexford diocese.

The Ferns case has triggered fresh claims of clerical sex abuse incidents and a flood of anger in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland, where the church's image has been severely damaged by a string of scandals in the last decade.

Pressure on the Catholic Church has also increased elsewhere in recent months, with a number of abuse allegations in the United States culminating in legal action against some of the most senior figures in the church's hierarchy.

The BBC's Anita McVeigh
"The standing of Irish Bishops is at an all time low"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Church to study sex abuse claims
19 Mar 02 | Correspondent
Suing the Pope
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