U.K. archbishop upsets Irish Catholic leaders

Irish Catholic leaders are expressing dismay after the head of the Church of England said that the Roman Catholic Church has lost all credibility in Ireland.

The head of the Church of England has drawn the ire of Irish Catholic leaders for saying the Roman Catholic Church has lost all credibility in Ireland because of its mishandling of child sex-abuse cases.

During an interview with the BBC taped last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke publicly for the first time on the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church.

"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," Williams says.

"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, I think."

The Williams interview, recorded March 26, was scheduled to air Monday as part of the BBC's Easter programming. But the online publication of Williams's comments Saturday caught Ireland's Catholic leaders off-guard.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said he was "discouraged" to hear Williams's criticisms.

"I have been more than forthright in addressing the failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland," Martin said in a statement. "Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend and do not deserve it."

Martin also noted that Ireland's Anglican leaders — including John Neill, the Church of Ireland's archbishop of Dublin, as well as Bishop Richard Clarke — had immediately distanced themselves from Williams's statements, with Clarke describing them as careless.

Martin later said Williams had called to express regret for the "difficulties which may have been created" by the interview, but it wasn't clear whether that constituted an apology or whether Williams still stood by his remarks.

Three Irish government-ordered investigations published from 2005 to 2009 have documented how thousands of Irish children suffered rape, molestation and other abuse by priests in their parishes and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages.

Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996, after victims began to sue the church.

Vatican distancing itself from papal priest

Williams's remarks came after Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, compared recent verbal attacks against the pontiff and the Catholic Church to "collective violence" against Jews.

The Franciscan priest was speaking with the Pope in attendance at St. Peter's Basilica during a Vatican Good Friday service.

Within hours of the homily, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Cantalamessa's words did not represent the official position of the church.

"A comparison between the criticism of the Catholic Church for the scandals of pedophilia and anti-Semitism is absolutely not the line of the Vatican and of the Catholic church, and was also not the intention of Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who had the intention to bring only a witness of solidarity to the church by a Jew from his personal experience of suffering," Lombardi said.

The Vatican has been on the defensive in recent days, saying the church has been singled out and collectively stereotyped for the problem of pedophilia, which it says is a society-wide issue.

Victims say Benedict — both as a former archbishop of Munich and later as a Vatican cardinal directing the Holy See's policy on handling abuse cases — was part of a culture of coverup and confidentiality devised to protect church hierarchy.

Jewish groups around the world expressed anger at Cantalamessa's comments.

Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, called Cantalamessa's speech "breathtaking in its obscenity."

With files from The Associated Press