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The Irish government organized its own judicial fact-finding probe into Cloyne cover-ups. Last year, its report concluded that the Vatican had actively discouraged bishops from following their own child-protection rules, most notably citing a 1997 letter from the Vatican’s then-diplomat to Ireland warning bishops they risked being overruled and embarrassed by the Vatican if they didn’t handle cases within the church according to its own canon laws.

The Vatican has claimed the 1997 letter wasn’t an effort to sabotage the bishops’ policies and was merely a reminder to follow church law — a position rejected by the Irish government.

The timing of the Vatican’s release of the report was somewhat questionable: Key government leaders are all outside the country, most notably Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who is visiting the White House and Capitol Hill. Irish newspapers on Wednesday are certain to feature photos of Mr. Kenny and President Obama and in-depth reporting of Ireland-U.S. diplomacy on their front pages, not necessarily the Vatican’s yearlong investigation.

In other findings, the Vatican probe said a large number of priests, nuns and lay people held theological views at odds with church teaching, but it gave no specifics.

“It must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the church is not the authentic path toward renewal,” the report said.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the leader of Ireland‘s 4 million Catholics, who himself has been implicated in covering up abuse, said all of Ireland‘s bishops associate themselves with the Vatican investigators’ “sense of pain and shame.”

“In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes,” Cardinal Brady told a news conference at Ireland‘s main seminary west of Dublin.

Cardinal Brady has resisted calls to resign after he admitted in 2010 that he was involved in interviewing two children who were molested by a notorious rapist, the Rev. Brendan Smyth. The Smyth case, and the Irish attorney general’s failure to promptly extradite him to Northern Ireland to face charges, triggered the collapse of the Irish government in 1994.

Cardinal Brady has admitted he persuaded two of Father Smyth’s accusers to sign forms promising to keep their allegations secret. He has insisted this was done to protect the children, not the church.

Associated Press writers Victor L. Simpson in Rome and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.