MORE than 100 Catholic priests in the archdiocese of Dublin are alleged to have sexually abused at least 350 children, according to a report released yesterday.
The number of alleged offences in the report released by the archdiocese is the biggest such admission of child abuse by priests in Ireland to date.
The alleged offences took place over the past 66 years and the report follows a detailed examination of parish records.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has been rocked by waves of such allegations against priests since the mid 1990s.
A government commission to look at the history and handling of abuse by priests throughout Ireland is to be set up later this month.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat, said the diocese would have to sell off some of its property to pay victims' compensation claims. The archbishop, appointed in 2003, said such an action would be "a necessary sacrifice to put right past wrongs, as much as was possible".
"It's very frightening for me to see that in some of these cases, so many children were abused," he said
"On the other hand, I know that the vast majority of priests don't abuse, that they do good work, that they're extremely upset and offended by what's happened."
The report, which looked at cases of alleged abuse dating back to 1940 in the Dublin area, found that 102 priests - about 3.5 per cent - had allegedly been involved in the sexual or physical abuse of children.
The office said the numbers were based on a two-year review of the personnel files of more than 2,800 priests who had worked in the Dublin archdiocese, either as parish priests or in religious orders, over the past 66 years.
According to the report, eight Dublin-assigned priests have received criminal convictions for abuse charges, while 32 priests have been sued for damages by 105 victims at a cost to the archdiocese of 5.8 million, including legal fees.
But it said costs were expected to rise much higher, as 40 cases remained unsettled. Church authorities have positively identified 350 abuse victims, and a possible further 40 people who may have been abused have still to be traced.
Last October, Seamus Hegarty, the bishop of Derry, revealed that about 40 child sex abuse allegations have been made against 26 priests in the Derry diocese over the last 50 years.
Up to 13 of those priests are still working in the Church.