DUBLIN (Reuters) - Roman Catholic archbishops in Dublin obsessively covered up widespread sexual abuse of children by priests until the mid-1990s, a report commissioned by the Irish government said on Thursday.
One priest admitted abusing more than 100 children. Another said he had abused children every two weeks for more than 25 years, it said.
All archbishops in charge over the 1975-2004 period covered by the inquiry were aware of some complaints and the archdiocese was pre-occupied with protecting the reputation of the Church over and above protecting children's welfare, the report said.
It said the Church was "obsessively" concerned with secrecy and operated a policy of "don't ask, don't tell" about abuse.
"Unfortunately, it may be that the very prominent role which the Church has played in Irish life is the very reason why abuses by a minority of its members were allowed to go unchecked," it said.
The report, designed to show how the Church and state responded to charges of abusing children, said a representative sample of 46 priests against whom complaints were levelled made it "abundantly clear" that abuse was widespread.
Diarmuid Martin, archbishop since the end of the period covered by the report, said trying to avoid scandal earlier ironically produced a horrendous scandal now.
"This is the diocese in which I was born," Martin told a news conference. "How do I feel when I have to unveil here before you the revolting stories of the sexual assault and rape of many young children and teenagers by priests of the archdiocese. No words of apology will ever be sufficient."
The inquiry, which came six months after a similarly damning and even more graphically detailed report about Church-run industrial and reform schools, also accused state officials including police of abetting the cover-up.
Acknowledging the errors of state bodies, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern told reporters of his revulsion at the findings.
"I read the report as justice minister. But on a human level -- as a father and as a member of this community -- I felt a growing sense of revulsion and anger," Ahern said.
"Revulsion at the horrible evil acts committed against children. Anger at how those children were then dealt with and how often abusers were left free to abuse."
The Church in Ireland has been plagued by sex scandals for at least two decades. The descriptions in May of floggings, slave labour and gang rape in much of Ireland's now defunct system of industrial and reform schools in the 20th century further eroded the Church's moral authority.
"The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets," Thursday's report said.
"All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities," added the report, which was published by the Justice Ministry.
More than twice as many complaints related to boys than girls, but the report also said it was "risible" when an archbishop defended one case by saying it arose merely from a priest's "'wonderment' about the female anatomy."
Similar abuse cover-up charges have dogged the Catholic Church in other countries, especially the United States. Seven dioceses there have filed for bankruptcy protection to shield themselves from law suits by abuse victims.
Pope Benedict has condemned sexual abuse by clergy and said wayward priests should be brought to justice. Abuse cases have also been reported elsewhere, notably in Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, France and Poland.
Ahern said perpetrators should be brought to justice. Of the 46 priests sampled in the report, 11 have already pleaded guilty to or were criminally convicted of sexual assaults on children.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of victims' group One in Four, said: "We ask the minister of justice to extend the investigations to all archdioceses in the country."
Work on the latest report, begun in 2006, finished months ago but publication was delayed until the High Court cleared it last week with some details removed because they could jeopardise criminal proceedings.
Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin and Tom Heneghan; Editing by Alison Williams and Jon Hemming