Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said yesterday that Catholic leaders must confront their cover-ups of child abuse honestly and completely if they want to fulfill their mission as Christians.

Speaking on Thursday as the pope arrived in neighboring Britain Martin said "Abuse was reinforced by covering it up."

Martin told a Dublin audience he had "never for a moment imagined, in my work as a pastor, that I would have had to address the sexual abuse of children on such a wide scale." And he said the church still had a painful road to travel to complete its penance.

"There is no way forward for the church in carrying out its mission without adequately addressing its past," he said. "Assessing the truth of the past objectively and accurately is a precondition for assessing what is happening today. ... The church has to address its past honestly and completely."

The Dublin archdiocese employs an official to monitor and support pedophile priests once they are released from prison but Martin noted that this was just one small step and not a common practice in the church.

"There is no adequate monitoring of perpetrators who are living in society. Many may constitute serious ongoing risk to children," Martin said.

"It is not a question of witch-hunting, which is never in the interests of child protection and safeguarding," the archbishop said. "We must provide programs which provide support to perpetrators and which at the same time protect children."