The Irish Bishops' Conference has issued an apology to all those who were abused by priests.

At the end of the first day of the bishops’ winter conference a statement was issued saying: ‘We, as bishops, apologise to all those who were abused by priests as children, their families and to all people who feel rightly outraged and let down by the failure of moral leadership and accountability that emerges from the Report’.

The normal business of the General Meeting was suspended and the entire meeting was dedicated to the Commission of Investigation Report into the Archdiocese of Dublin, which was published on 26 November.

They went on to say that they are deeply shocked by the ‘scale and depravity of abuse’ described in the Report.

The bishops said that they are ‘shamed’ by the extent to which child sexual abuse was covered up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and recognise that this ‘indicates a culture that was widespread in the Church’.

‘The avoidance of scandal, the preservation of the reputations of individuals and of the Church, took precedence over the safety and welfare of children. This should never have happened and must never be allowed to happen again. We humbly ask for forgiveness’, they said.

In response to the many concerns raised about the use of 'Mental Reservation', the bishops said they wish to categorically state that it ‘has no place in covering up evil’.

The bishops said that as an initial response to the Report, they have ‘agreed to request the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church to explore with the relevant Government departments and statutory authorities, North and South, a mechanism by which to ensure that the Church's current policies and practices in relation to the safeguarding of children represent best practice and that allegations of abuse are properly handled’.

The statement added that Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin have been called to the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI, to enable him ‘to be briefed and evaluate the painful situation of the Church in Ireland following the recent publication of the Murphy Commission Report’. They will meet with Pope Benedict on Friday.

Yesterday, Papal Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza said he was hopeful that the Pope would respond to the report's findings.

He insisted the findings of the report have shocked and dismayed the Vatican.