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Anglican leader: Irish Catholic Church has lost 'all credibility'

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presides over a service at the Baptism site at the River Jordan, on February 20, 2010.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presides over a service at the Baptism site at the River Jordan, on February 20, 2010.
  • NEW: Archbishop Rowan Williams apologizes for saying Irish Catholic Church as lost "all credibility" in scandal
  • Recent Irish government-backed report found Catholic Church covered up abuse by priests
  • Two Irish bishops have resigned over the scandal and Pope has apologized

(CNN) -- The head of the Anglican church expressed regret Saturday for comments he made about the Irish Catholic Church, which included saying that the Irish Catholic Church has lost "all credibility" following the abuse scandal, his press office said.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday, Archbishop Rowan Williams called the issue "a colossal corporate trauma" for the Catholic Church, especially in Ireland.

"An institution so deeply bound in to the life of society suddenly becoming -- suddenly losing all credibility," said Williams, the head of the Church of England. "That's not just a problem for the church, it's a problem for everybody in Ireland, I think."

Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, said he was "stunned" and "discouraged" by Williams' remarks.

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Later Saturday, Williams and Martin spoke by telephone and the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed regret that the comments were made, Lambeth Palace's press office told CNN.

"The church itself continues to work tirelessly to tackle the issue of abuse," the office said. It was not immediately clear how Martin responded.

Williams made the comments about the Irish Catholic Church on the BBC radio program "Start the Week," airing Monday, as part of a general discussion about religion.

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Ireland has been rocked by a series of child abuse reports, both physical and sexual, by Catholic clergy going back at least seven decades.

In his statement Saturday, Martin said that he has addressed the reports.

"As Archbishop of Dublin, I have been more than forthright in addressing the failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland," Martin said in a statement. "I still shudder when I think of the harm that was caused to abused children. I recognise that their Church failed them."

However, Martin added that priests and parents are working to renew the Irish Catholic Church and remain committed to the faith.

"Archbishop Williams' comments will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further," Martin said. "Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend and do not deserve it."

A recent Irish government-backed report found the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Irish Catholic church authorities covered up abuse by priests from 1975 to 2004, and that child sexual abuse was widespread then.

Two Irish bishops have resigned over the scandal, and Pope Benedict XVI issued a pastoral letter to the Irish church last month saying he was deeply sorry for the abuse.

In his letter, the pope said "misplaced concern" for the Catholic Church's reputation and the avoidance of scandal contributed to the problems.

Williams said that has been a lesson for the Anglican church as well.

"I guess that for an awful lot of Christian institutions, until fairly recently, the default setting would be, 'We've got to try and hang on to the institution's credibility,'" Williams told the BBC. "We've learned that that is damaging, it's wrong, it's dishonest, and it requires that very hard recognition which ought to be ... natural for the Christian church, based as it is on repentance and honesty.

"We've had to learn, well, honesty and truthfulness are the only way in which we can survive in any way as an institution."

Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend
--Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

The pope plans to visit England and Scotland in September, but Williams said that will not be a "big deal" for the Church of England.

"The pope will be coming here to Lambeth Palace," Williams told the BBC, referring to the archbishop's historic London residence. "We'll have the bishops together to meet him. I'm concerned that he has a chance to say what he wants to say in and to British society, that we welcome him as a valued partner, and that's about it."

It will be the pope's first state visit to the United Kingdom, according to the British Foreign Office. A 1982 trip by Pope John Paul II was officially a pastoral visit.

Relations between the Anglican and Catholic churches have been strained following the Vatican's outreach to disaffected Anglicans last year. The plan would enable groups of Anglicans to become Catholic and recognize the pope as their leader, yet have parishes that retain Anglican rites, Vatican officials said.

Some observers said the Vatican's move would shatter more than 40 years of efforts to reconcile the two churches.

The move came 475 years after King Henry VIII broke from Rome and created the Church of England, the forerunner of the Anglican Communion.