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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican has recalled its ambassador in Ireland following severe criticism by the Irish parliament of the church's role in covering up child sex abuse, a spokesman said on Monday.
The move follows last week's unprecedented rebuke of the Holy See by the Irish parliament in the wake of a report which accused church authorities of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009.
Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the Apostolic Nuncio of Ireland, had been recalled from Dublin for consultations.
The highly unusual step by the Vatican reflects the heightened tensions over the issue following a wave of criticism in Ireland over its role in the child abuse scandal.
Ireland said it was not surprised by the move and was awaiting a Vatican response to accusations the church played a role in covering up child abuse.
The recall "is a matter for the Holy See," Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said in a statement. "It is to be expected that the Vatican would wish to consult in depth with the Nuncio on its response."
Last week the Irish parliament passed a motion deploring the Vatican's role in "undermining child protection frameworks" following publication of a damning report on the diocese of Cloyne in county Cork.
The Cloyne report said Irish clerics concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009 after the Vatican appeared to disparage Irish child protection guidelines in a letter to Irish Bishops.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny made a speech condemning the Holy See in which he said that the "rape and torture of children were downplayed or managed, to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation."
A series of revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Anger shifted from local bishops to Rome after it emerged that a letter from the Vatican to the Irish Bishops in 1997 appeared to play down the Irish guidelines on reporting sex abuse by referring to them as "study guidelines."
The Vatican has denied that the letter was an invitation to disregard Irish laws.
Writing by James Mackenzie; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Andrew Heavens