The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost “all credibility”, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Williams – head of the worldwide Anglican Communion – was speaking of the way the Irish church had dealt with the scandals of paedophile priests.
The scandals – in Ireland and the wider world – have led to protests and calls for the Pope not to visit the United Kingdom in September, which he is slated to do as a state visit.
Williams said the Irish problems had been a “colossal trauma” for the Church, and affected the wider public.
His remarks come in an interview to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme on Easter Monday.
The BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said Williams’s words represented unusually damning criticism from the leader of another church.
It is the first time the archbishop has spoken about the scandal.
“The issue has prompted increasing controversy about Pope Benedict’s role in handling accusations of sex abuse, before he became Pope,” says the BBC.
Williams said: “I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.
“And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that’s not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.”
Last month, Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland.
He said in a pastoral letter that there had been “serious mistakes” among bishops in responding to allegations of paedophilia.