By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican report on the sexual abuse of Irish children by Catholic clergy accused Ireland's religious leaders of negligence and called for more reforms there to avoid a similarly "shameful" scandal in the future.
Irish bishops assured Vatican investigators that they would promptly notify civil authorities of new sexual abuse cases and would make changes to Catholic education and seminary life.
"With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious (nuns) to whose care they had been entrusted," the report, released on Tuesday, said. "Those who should have exercised diligence often failed to do so effectively."
The Vatican investigation is the latest attempt by the Irish Church to tackle a crisis that has badly tainted its reputation.
Years of crisis over sexual abuse have included several damning government reports, the resignations of three Irish bishops, a papal letter to Irish Catholics and a diplomatic falling out between Ireland and the Vatican. That led to Dublin closing its embassy in the Holy See.
The report said Pope Benedict felt "dismay and betrayal" over "sinful and criminal acts".
"For these faults, forgiveness must once more be asked: from God and from the victims," wrote Vatican envoys on the team, known as an "apostolic visitation".
Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, welcomed the findings.
"Today's report provides us with a helpful snapshot of a key moment in the ongoing journey of renewal, and a signpost to future priorities and directions," he told a news conference in Maynooth, near Dublin.
BISHOPS WELCOME GUIDANCE
Investigators said church authorities, including some bishops, had failed to understand and react to the problem but were now making "excellent" efforts to implement new guidelines to protect the young.
Bishops had made assurances that newly-discovered cases would be promptly brought to the attention of both civil and church authorities, it said.
However, while Irish seminaries had implemented programs to educate future priests in the protection of minors, the report called for "further improvement".
This included better preparation of future priests for a life of celibacy, more consistent criteria for admission to seminaries so that potential abusers were weeded out early on, and more attention to victims and their families.
As in other countries, Catholic leaders in Ireland were in the past accused of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse and shuttling clergy accused of abuse from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or turning them in to police.
The report acknowledged the devastating effect the sexual abuse crisis has had on the Church in Ireland and the "many wounds" it opened in the country's Catholic community.
"Many lay persons have experienced a loss of trust in their pastors. Many good priests and religious (nuns) have felt unjustly tainted by association with the accused in the court of public opinion ..." the report's authors said after visits to four archdioceses, religious institutes and Irish seminaries.
Last year, the Vatican took the highly unusual step of recalling its ambassador to Ireland after Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests.
The Irish parliament passed a motion deploring the Vatican's role in "undermining child protection frameworks" following publication of a damning report on the diocese of Cloyne.
The Cloyne report said Irish clerics concealed the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009.
(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Ben Harding)