"The pope will be reminding the bishops of their duty to ordinary Catholics. One of the problems is that the Church has become very much driven by power and cover-ups.

"The pope will be saying 'This can't happen again, you must remember what your role is as a spiritual leader'."

Rekindling the faith

But Watts said the pope must also work to rekindle the faith of ordinary Catholics.

"Many Catholics in Ireland are disillusioned. Somehow he's got to re-inspire those Catholics to think that most priests haven't been involved in sexual abuse, it's a small number."

The meetings come three months after the release of a damning report into child sex abuse by priests, released by Judge Yvonne Murphy.

"A casualty of all this has been the truth. The fullness of the truth must come out, everything must be laid on the table"

Bishop Joseph Duffy,
Irish Bishops Conference spokesman

Issued on November 26, 2009 the Murphy Commission report found the church had "obsessively" hidden child abuse from 1975 to 2004.

It said that of the 13 auxiliary [assistant] bishops in the archdiocese who knew about complaints of child sexual abuse over that period, four "dealt particularly badly with complaints".

The archdiocese had been more preoccupied with protecting the church's reputation than safeguarding children, it said.

Among the 24 bishops expected at the summit is Martin Drennan of Galway, who was named in the report's investigation.

But he has refused calls to step down, saying that he did nothing to endanger children.

Graphic abuse reports

The report came six months after the release of an even more graphic report about floggings, slave labour and gang rape in Ireland's now defunct church-run industrial and reform schools in the 20th century.

That report documented decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse in Catholic-run schools and orphanages.

"A casualty of all this has been the truth," The Associated Press news agency cited Clogher Bishop Joseph Duffy, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops Conference, as saying on the eve of the summit in the Vatican.

"The fullness of the truth must come out, everything must be laid on the table."

But he said the church was "admittedly slower than in needs to be" in dealing with a "culture of concealment."

The church's moral authority in Ireland has been eroded in recent years following a string of clerical sex abuse scandals, many of them involving priests molesting young boys.

Similar charges of covering up cases of abuse have dogged the Catholic church in other countries, especially the United States.

Seven dioceses there have filed for bankruptcy protection to shield themselves from lawsuits by abuse victims.