An organisation representing many former residents of industrial schools has thanked Pope Benedict XVI for 'his unprecedented apology' to victims of abuse by priests and religious.

The Pontiff said in his pastoral letter to Irish Catholics that he was 'truly sorry' for the abuse victims and their families suffered in the church's name.

The main points of the letter were read out at Masses today.

Irish Survivors of Child Abuse welcomed the Pontiff's commitment to personally intervene in the workings of the Irish Church to bring about reform and renewal.

Yesterday's letter was partly prompted by last May's Ryan Report on abuse in Catholic-run industrial schools and reformatories.

In a statement, Irish SOCA says it 'represents a highly emotional and long overdue' Papal apology to victims.

It calls the letter a first step on the road to healing for many who had lost faith in the church.

The organisation says it will be seeking an urgent meeting with All-Ireland Primate Cardinal Seán Brady to discuss its request to the Pope to establish a Commission or Consistory Court of the Holy See to examine misconduct by Catholic priests and religious in Ireland.

However, some survivors groups, including One-in-Four, and abuse victim Andrew Madden said they were disappointed with the letter as it did not go far enough.

In his letter, Pope Benedict acknowledged that in the past there had been a misplaced emphasis on the church's reputation and called for decisive action to restore people's respect and goodwill.

'I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way church authorities in Ireland dealt with them,' he said.

'Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.'

Bishop verbally abused reading Gospel

Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy was verbally abused as he read the Gospel at Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Killarney this morning.

A man, who is believed to be in his 40s and from Tralee, entered the church about halfway through Mass, before Bishop Murphy read extracts from the Papal letter.

He began verbally abusing the Bishop before a number of members of the congregation restrained him and ejected him from the Cathedral. It is understood that the man was spoken to by gardaí.

In Dublin, up to 20 people staged a walk-out during Mass at the Pro-Cathedral, after details of the pastoral letter were read to the congregation.

Cardinal Brady, who has said he would take a period of time to reflect on his future, asked people to read the letter with an open heart.

'In the name of the church, Pope Benedict openly expresses the shame and remorse that we all feel about the abuse that has occurred,' the cardinal said.

'He expresses the depth of the pain that has been caused and acknowledges that some people find it difficult even to go inside the doors of a church after all that has occurred.'

The Pontiff expressed willingness to meet victims and said there would be 'apostolic visitation' of some Dioceses.

He also told religious figures who had abused children to answer for their actions before properly constituted tribunals.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin welcomed the pastoral letter as a further step in the church's renewal and healing process.

'It deals with a dramatically painful chapter in the lives of the many who were abused,' he told Mass goers in Dublin last night.

'The church tragically failed many of its children: it failed through abuse, it failed through not preventing abuse, it failed through covering up abuse.'

Elsewhere, Bishop Jim Moriarty has said the letter indicates the seriousness with which the Pope regards the current crisis and his heartfelt concern for the abused.

In December, the bishop tendered his resignation for failing to challenge the prevailing culture in the Archdiocese of Dublin when he was an auxiliary bishop there.

He has said that he expects the Pope to accept it late next month.

Swiss priest suggests sex abuse register

A Swiss priest has called on the Vatican to set up an international register of Catholic clergy who have been reported for sex abuse.

Martin Werlen, a member of the Swiss Bishops Conference, said he fears that the Catholic hierarchy has failed to take the impact of the latest child sex abuse seriously enough.

He told the Sonntagsblick newspaper that an official Swiss church body that deals with sex abuse has discussed the idea of 'a central office in Rome, which would register church people who have been reported.'

Such a list, he said, could be consulted by bishops 'anywhere in the world' when they make appointments.

'When, for example, a European priest applies in a US diocese, then the bishop can check with Rome if he is charged with something'" he added.

'Such an office would ensure more transparency worldwide.'