The Irish Catholic Church is intent on weeding out pedophiles before they become priests, beginning with current seminarians. Among the steps police are being asked to conduct a thorough investigation of the person's past.

A questionnaire has also been sent to all of last year's seminary entrants via email this week.

"This is a challenging time for the church and it's amazing that, in the midst of all this challenge and hostility, people are still coming forward. It's worth finding out why," director of vocations Father Paddy Rushe told the Irish Independent.

"Certainly, the recent scandals have piqued the interest in terms of wanting to get a better idea of what the motivations are to bring a guy forward -- particularly at times like this.

"It's not fair to say it's directly designed with the abuse in mind. There's probably some connection but it's more against the backdrop of the reports we're doing it -- to find out their attitudes and motivations in answering the call."

He said there was no suggestion any of the new seminarians had engaged in wrongdoing or were likely to do so in the future.

Fr Rushe said the questionnaire "will probe motivations, backgrounds, pastimes, interests, routines, and experiences. We will ask about praying, whether they were part of religious groups or prayer groups before they joined the seminary."

And he claimed that there is now  "a very rigorous process in place." Applicants for the priesthood have a medical screening and full check-up, which includes an in-depth psychological evaluation, carried out by trained psychologists. "Sexuality is part of the profile", Father Rushe said.

Next is an interview with the bishop and if the candidate is provisionally accepted, they are then scrutinized by the police-vetting unit. Rushe said that he hoped the questionnaire carried out in conjunction with the church's research and development department would be issued annually.

 Maeve Lewis, Director of child abuse support group One in Four, said it was more important than ever to ensure seminarians were "psychologically, spiritually and emotionally mature."