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Mr. Ahern’s successor, Brian Cowen, defended the Vatican’s refusal to cooperate with Irish child-abuse inquiries.

Yet even the most devoted have found their faith tested by those investigations into the church’s concealment of child abuse by priests, nuns and other officials.

Judge-led investigations have produced four mammoth reports since 2005 documenting how bishops shuttled known pedophiles throughout Ireland and to unwitting parishes in the United States and Australia.

They detailed how tens of thousands of children suffered wide-ranging abuses in workhouse-style residential schools, and how leaders of the largest diocese in Dublin didn’t tell police of any crimes until forced by the weight of lawsuits in the mid-1990s.

The latest investigation, into the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, was published earlier this month. It found that officials there were shielding suspected pedophiles from the law until 2008.

That is 12 years after the Irish church unveiled a new policy requiring the mandatory reporting of all suspected crimes to police, and seven years after Pope Benedict XVI — then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — ordered bishops worldwide to report all abuse cases to him, too.

However, the Cloyne report highlighted a 1997 letter from the Vatican to Irish bishops warning them that their new crime-reporting policy undermined canon law and had not won the Holy See’s approval.

For the first time, an Irish fact-finding inquiry found the Vatican culpable in promoting the culture of cover-up.

On Thursday, the Vatican’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in response to Mr. Kenny’s speech that the Holy See will respond “when opportune to the demands of the Irish government” following the Cloyne probe.

Father Lombardi expressed hope the debate on the scandals will play out “objectively” and restore a climate of trust in the church and Irish society.

But the wounds run deep.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the church’s leading voice calling for honesty, went on Ireland’s state RTE television to declare, teary-eyed, that honest priests were being verbally assaulted by the public because of their leaders’ continuing failure to admit the truth.

“I find myself asking today, ‘Can I be proud of the church that I’m a leader of?’ I have to be ashamed of this,” said Archbishop Martin, who has found himself at odds with other bishops and the Vatican about his open approach.

The archbishop noted that he had provided state investigators the Dublin Archdiocese’s secret files on abuse complaints — despite a lawsuit from his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, seeking to keep them locked away — and urged other dioceses to do the same.

He described as “a cabal” those church leaders in the Vatican and Ireland who conspired to ignore both the pope’s and the Irish government’s calls for pedophiles to be identified.

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