An advisor to the child protection watchdog in the Catholic Church has said battle lines are still being drawn within the church over how transparently sexual abuse cases should be handled.

Monica Applewhite also expressed scepticism about the explanation of some church leaders for their failure to co-operate with the watchdog's audit of abuse cases.

Ms Applewhite is a US catholic and a world expert on abuse prevention.

She has addressed the hierarchy in Ireland and advises the National Board for the Protection of Children in the Catholic Church.

Speaking in a personal capacity to The Irish Catholic newspaper, she laments that some church leaders still follow legal advice, instead of listening to their pastoral instincts or the consensus for change among the faithful.

She says the Irish church is at 'a tipping point' and that each of its bishops and religious superiors must now choose whether they are for or against transparency and change.

Asked why some leaders were accused recently by the national board of having failed to co-operate with its audit of abuse, Ms Applewhite says their explanation 'that there were fears about violating data protection laws seems to only scratch the surface of what the fears may be'.

She observes that 'being fully accountable and disclosing to an outside entity is very frightening for leaders in any area, but most assuredly for religious leaders who have not been asked to do this in the past'.