LONDON – The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has offered an apology after saying that the Catholic Church in Ireland had lost all credibility as a result of the child abuse scandal.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams made the critical comments in an interview with Andrew Marr to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week program.
In an uncharacteristic breach of ecumenical protocol, the archbishop said in the interview: "I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that 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 into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland," he added.
Williams later called Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin to express his "deep sorrow and regret for any difficulties which may have been created" by his comments and to insist that "nothing could have been farther from his intention than to offend or criticize the Irish Church".
Martin, in a statement, said he was "stunned" to hear Williams' remarks and that he had "rarely felt personally so discouraged" as he did when he heard them.
"I still shudder when I think of the harm that was caused to abused children. I recognize that their Church failed them," he reported.
"But I also journey with those – especially parents and priests – who work day by day to renew the Catholic Church in this diocese and who are committed to staying with their Church and passing on the faith in wearying times," Martin added.
"Archbishop Williams' comments will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further."
Martin also said that those working for renewal in the Church did not need such a comment on Easter weekend and "do not deserve it."
The latest controversy comes after Jewish groups and the media accused a senior Catholic figure of comparing criticism of the pope in recent weeks to anti-Semitism suffered by Jews.
In a Passion of the Lord service in St Peter's Basilica on Friday, preacher to the pope, Father Raniero Cantalamessa quoted a letter from a Jewish friend who had written to him condemning the "attacks" on the pope over his handling of a child abuse case in the United States in the 1990s.
"The use of stereotypes and the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," he said in quoting his friend.
The Vatican later issued a statement stressing that it did not regard the criticism of the pope "to be in any ways similar to anti-Semitism" and that Cantalamessa had "intended only to share an expression of solidarity from a Jewish brother."