Irish bishops have made progress in protecting children following decades of clerical sex-abuse scandals but the Catholic community has been left with "open wounds", the Vatican has said.
While bishops are fulfilling a pledge to quickly report new cases, the scandal has led to a loss of trust in the clergy, the Vatican said in a report into the Irish Church's implementation of guidelines for dealing with abuse.
"The archbishops... gave assurances that all newly discovered cases of abuse are promptly brought before the competent civil authority and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," the report said.
However, reports into hundreds of child sex abuse cases stretching back decades had "opened many wounds" in the Catholic community and led to "a loss of trust" in pastors who failed to prevent abuse or report it to the police.
Public anger at the cover-up sparked a diplomatic row, with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny accusing the Vatican of "dysfunction, disconnection and elitism", and culminated in Dublin withdrawing its ambassador to the Vatican.
The Irish government last year accused the Church of attempting to block inquiries by authorities.
Vatican investigators sent to Ireland at the start of 2011 to examine the Church's response to the crisis stressed their "sense of dismay and betrayal" over "the sinful and criminal acts that were at the root of this crisis."
Their report asked for the victims' forgiveness, saying their well being "is of paramount concern for the Church," but praised the Irish clergy for its "excellent" results in following the guidelines in combatting sex abuse.
The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) slammed the report as being "more about trying to restore a battered public image and the confidence of pained parishioners than about genuine reform."
"No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive all male monarchy with a horrific history of ignoring and concealing child sex crimes," it said in a statement.
The One in Four group, which represents victims of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland, also accused the Vatican of failing to accept responsibility for the cover-ups and putting the Church's reputation before the truth.
The Vatican should have acknowledged that "its interventions in the abuse scandal allowed individual Catholic Church leaders in Ireland to ignore guidelines and to protect the good name of the Church at the expense of the safety of children," it said.
Ireland's bishops said they wished to associate themselves with the "great sense of pain and shame" expressed by investigators in their findings regarding the abuse of young people and the failure of authorities to react.
"In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own the heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes and sins," Cardinal Sean Brady said in a statement.
He said the report offered "a contribution to the on-going spiritual and moral renewal of the Church in Ireland" and offered "great encouragement" by noting that "in this time of trial" there are also "many clear signs of hope".
The report draws together the findings from seven teams of Vatican-appointed church leaders who visited four Archdioceses across Ireland, after Pope Benedict XVI promised Catholics in Ireland an investigation into the scandal.
Vatican investigators said they were "struck by the efforts made throughout the country" to implement the new guidelines on dealing with sex abuse.
"The results of these efforts were judged to be excellent," it added.
They said the guidelines on how to deal with sex abuse cases would have to be updated to take into account norms published last May, and "should be periodically examined".
While the Vatican has rejected claims that celibacy could be partly responsible for deviant sexual behaviour among its flock, the report included advice on how to better prepare priests for a life of sexual abstinence.
It also warned of a "serious situation" in which many members of the clergy were found to be at odds with the Church on theological matters, though it did not give any details.