The leader of the Anglican Church in England has expressed his 'deep sorrow and regret' after he described the Catholic Church in Ireland as 'losing all credibility'.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams had earlier said the Church in Ireland is 'losing all credibility' because of child sex abuse scandals, and that it was turning into a problem for Irish society as a whole.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was stunned by the remarks.

Dr Martin said that in all of his years as Catholic Archbishop of Dublin - even in difficult times - he had rarely felt so personally discouraged as he did after hearing the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A statement from the Dublin Archdiocese this afternoon said: 'The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, this afternoon telephoned Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to express his deep sorrow and regret for difficulties which may have been created by remarks in a BBC interview concerning the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

'Archbishop Williams affirmed that nothing could have been farther from his intention than to offend or criticise the Irish Church.'

In an interview with the BBC, Dr Rowan Williams described the clerical sex abuse scandals as a colossal trauma for Ireland in particular, and he said that the Catholic Church here is 'losing all credibility' as a result.

Dr Williams said: ‘It’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now and an institution so deeply bound in to the life of the society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility, and that’s not just a problem for the Church it is a problem for everybody in Ireland’.

Speaking on the Marian Finucane programme on RTÉ Radio One, Dr Martin said he was stunned by the remarks and that they have done untold damage to the goodwill of a lot of Catholics in Ireland.

Dr Martin said he would be writing a letter to Dr Williams, and would publish the reply if necessary.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, said he heard the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments with deep regret.

He extended his support to Dr Martin, in working towards healing the hurt - including that of the faithful and their clergy - whose ministry has been undermined by those guilty of abusing children.

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare has called on Dr Williams to reflect on his comments which he described as ‘careless and reckless’ and ‘extremely unfortunate’.

Bishop Richard Clarke said he deeply regretted the comment that the Catholic Church was ‘losing all credibility’ because of the clerical child abuse scandals, adding that it was hurtful to all Christians here.

He said it was ‘thoughtless’ and that the Archbishop of Canterbury had neither experience of Irish life nor any direct ecclesiastical authority in this country.

Bishop Clarke said that the language used by Archbishop was ‘extremely unfortunate’ even allowing for the fact that the Catholic Church here is facing deep and serious challenges to its authority as a consequence of the scandals.

Dr Clarke said everybody living here knew very well that most bishops, priests and religious of the Roman Catholic tradition minister faithfully and selflessly under very difficult conditions with the love and support of their people.