By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Ireland's top Roman Catholic leaders will hold talks with Pope Benedict this week to formulate the Vatican's response to an Irish government report on a 30-year cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope and top officials would meet Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Irish Bishops Conference, and Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, Friday.
The meeting was called to discuss and evaluate "the painful situation of the Church in Ireland" following the publication last month of the Murphy Commission Report.
The rank of the participants -- who will also include the Vatican ambassador to Dublin and top Vatican doctrinal officials -- effectively makes it a rare summit about the problem of sexual abuse of children in the Irish Church.
The November 26 report was the latest of several over the past eight years to expose child sex scandals around the world that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church.
It said the Church in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland had obsessively hid such abuse until the mid-1990s. All archbishops in charge were aware of some complaints but the Dublin archdiocese was preoccupied with protecting the reputation of the Church over and above safeguarding children's welfare.
DECADES OF CHILD ABUSE
There was no indication from the Vatican statement about what it could do to respond to the report, which said the Church's prominence in Irish life was one of the reasons why abuses by a minority of priests were allowed to go unchecked.
One priest admitted abusing more than 100 children. Another said he had abused children every two weeks for over 25 years.
The revelations came six months after the release of another damning and even more graphic report about floggings, slave labor and gang rape in much of Ireland's now defunct Church-run industrial and reform schools in the 20th century. That report too accused state officials and police of abetting a cover-up.
The reports have further eroded a national institution whose moral authority was all-powerful for centuries. Since the release of the Murphy Report, Irish media have reported that Dublin government officials were frustrated that the pope and the Vatican had not yet responded.
The pope has strongly condemned priestly sexual abuse during his trips to two countries hard hit by widespread scandals -- the United States and Australia. But critics, such as victims' groups, have said the Vatican and the Church had not gone far enough in handing over suspected abusers to civil justice.
(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely and Antonella Ciancio in Dublin, editing by Mark Trevelyan)