The country's Catholic bishops have committed to telling the HSE whether all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in their dioceses have been reported to the civil authorities.

The hierarchy had said that, for legal reasons, it could not divulge a wide range of similar information to the HSE's national audit on church child protection practices.

This breakthrough follows yesterday's meeting between Minister for Children Barry Andrews and the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin.

The Minister, Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin announced they had agreed to separate the completion of Section 5 of the audit from issues of ‘soft information’ - that is, hearsay, rumour or innuendo - which all accepted presented legal difficulties.

A Bishop's spokesman gave the example of a bishop of a smaller diocese telling the audit before now that just one priest had been asked to stand aside while he was being investigated.

He said that information would then have been discussed by an Inter-Agency Review Group comprising HSE, garda and church representatives. As they would probably have known the priest's identity, legal difficulties could have arisen, he said.

The Minister's spokeswoman said it was agreed to suspend the work of the groups pending the enactment of legislation to cover the exchange of ‘soft information’; and that the relevant Bill would be on the soon-to-be-published Government Legislative Programme.

She added that all Section 5 information will be published.

This would include whether all complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse made to any diocese had been notified to the HSE and the Gardaí.