Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has apparently issued an ultimatum to four bishops embroiled in the Irish Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal — to either quit or be fired by the Vatican.

Martin also has a new and potent ally: In a dramatic move, Prime Minister Brian Cowen has backed Martin, saying it was "a time for leadership and accountability" from the Catholic Church.

The four bishops were implicated in the escalating scandal by the Murphy Report, which probed the period in which they served in the Dublin Archdiocese. They are Bishop Raymond Field, Bishop Eamon Walsh, Bishop Martin Drennan and Bishop Jim Moriarty. 

One bishop, Donal Murray of Limerick, has already been forced out, and Martin is believed to have told the others that their days are numbered.

If the four bishops don't quit, Martin will reportedly petition the Congregation of Bishops in Rome to remove them.

For his part, Cowen stated: "The resignation of Bishop Murray is a welcome indication that those who are in positions of leadership and responsibility in the Church are facing up to their responsibility in the light of the very clear findings of the Murphy Commission."

Martin appears to have a clear mandate from the Vatican to sort out the Church sex abuse issue once and for all, and is moving very aggressively to have those who were in any way implicated in it to be removed.

The Dublin Council of Priests has also admitted that resignations are inevitable. Their chairman, Fr. Joe Mullen. said: "If they don't resign ... then maybe we'll all be retiring, if not resigning."

Martin has also gained support from the organization that represents grade-school principals, which called yesterday for the bishops to be removed.