The Vatican is to launch an investigation in the autumn into clerical child sex abuse in Ireland.

In a statement, the Vatican says four 'apostolic visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims.'

It adds: 'Through this Visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors.

'It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.'

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he 'looks forward to receiving the formal document which will define the nature and the precise terms and objectives of the visitation'.

Dr Martin welcomed the visitation being asked to evaluate the current response to victims and the quality of the assistance that the Church in Ireland owes to survivors.

He said the Dublin Archdiocese is offering full cooperation in the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by gardaí following the report.

The former head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is one of those who will conduct the inquiry.

He will be joined by Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto and Thomas Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said he hoped the Apostolic Visitation will provide Pope Benedict with a thorough analysis of protections in Ireland.

'Putting the safeguarding of children and all vulnerable people at the heart of every aspect of the Church's life is essential,' he added.