The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said the church has to find a way to sanction bishops who gravely fail victims of child sexual abuse.
Dr Martin said that it is not enough for the church to simply apologise for the abuse scandals.
He said that when Pope Francis visits the country next weekend, he has to speak frankly about the church’s past in Ireland but also about its future.
He added that structures which permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down forever everywhere, and expressed exasperation that this has not been done already.
In a homily delivered during mass at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, Dr Martin, who is the host of the World Meeting of Families, said the pope’s visit will be short but intense.
He said there would be widespread expectation, joy and enthusiasm but there would be many anxieties about the future of the church in Ireland and further afield.
He said it is not enough just to say sorry for abuse and that structures that facilitate it must be broken down.
"Why does this not happen?" he said, adding: "Why must such a simple affirmation have to be repeated so often?"
He said the scandals of abuse in the church have produced a deep-seated resentment among believers and anger at the role of church leadership.
Dr Martin also said the number of victims was immense and that the identity of only some is known.
He said victims of abuse in Ireland were people who found themselves placed in the care of the church to be loved and respected but who so often encountered extraordinary harshness.
"When you add up all the categories of victims, you can see that the number was immense. We still only know the identity of some. It is not something that belongs to the past but a hurt that survivors and those close to them carry in their hearts every day of their lives", he said.
He added: "The anger is not just about abuse but also about a church that was authoritarian, harsh, autocratic and self-protecting. We experienced a church that felt that it knew all the answers".
He described Pope Francis as a kind man who inspires and touches hearts and expressed confidence that the Irish people will extend a kind welcome to him.
Dr Martin cautioned that the pontiff is not going to be able to provide all the answers to the questions people ask, adding that he hoped he will speak kindly but also frankly during his visit.
He recalled that the recent history of the church has had its moments of darkness, adding that a church of light was needed that exposes darkness for what it is and that is such that the mechanisms of cover-up and self-justification cannot extinguish.
"My hope is that Pope Francis will challenge the church in Ireland to be different, to be more authentically the church of Jesus Christ in a culture that is different", Dr Martin said.