Bishop John Magee's number two, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, has admitted he should have resigned as child protection delegate rather than continue in a job where he disagreed with the child protection guidelines he was supposed to enforce.

Msgr O'Callaghan came in for sharp criticism in the Cloyne Report for his role in failing to respond appropriately to abuse allegations.

In a letter published in The Irish Catholic newspaper, Msgr O'Callaghan, who had responsibility for child safeguarding in the diocese, insists that his primary focus was always on the pastoral care of 'everyone suffering the consequences of sex abuse, primarily the victim but also the transgressor.'

He wrote: 'Judge Yvonne Murphy was made aware of the Cloyne commitment to pastoral care but the commission focussed on its remit of reporting on whether or not procedures were fulfilled.'

He also appears to justify his non-acceptance of mandatory reporting to the civil authorities of abuse allegations insisting that 'for most of those priests accused in Cloyne the complaints alleged incidents dating back over 30 or 40 years.

'Of those priests some would now be terminally ill while others would be under constant medical care.

'The literal guidelines did not allow for any discretion to bishops and to their delegates. Reporting was to be made immediately. No exception was to be made even when an accused priest was on his death-bed,' he adds.

Church attacked by 'arrows of godless culture'

Bishop of Raphoe Dr Philip Boyce has said the Catholic Church is being 'attacked by the arrows of a secular and godless culture.'

Dr Boyce also said the church was rocked from the inside by the sins and crimes of priests and consecrated people.

An independent review of diocesan files relating to child abuse allegations against priests in the bishop's Donegal diocese is nearing completion.

He has promised to publish the findings of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church when he receives them, which is likely to be next month.

Bishop Boyce made his remarks last Saturday but they were not released to journalists until yesterday evening.

He told worshippers at the Novena at the Marian Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo, that they were living through a testing moment of history and a spiritual dark night now engulfs the church.

The bishop urged Catholics to act hopefully and with patience and predicted that the church would rise again.