|Ireland's prime minister has attacked the Vatican for downplaying the sexual abuse of children [Reuters]
The Vatican has recalled its ambassador to Ireland following a report on the Catholic Church's handling of child abuse by priests that sparked government outrage.
Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said on Monday that Giuseppe Leanza, the archbishop and apostolic nuncio of Ireland, had been ordered to return from Dublin for consultations.
The Vatican acknowledged that the recall of an ambassador was a measure rarely adopted by the Holy See, underlining the "seriousness of the situation".
The principal aim was for direct discussions to prepare the Holy See's official response but the measure "does not exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions", Benedettini told reporters.
Wave of scandals
The publication of the report into more than a decade of sex abuse by priests in the diocese of Cloyne in southern Ireland triggered a blistering attack on the Vatican by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny that was widely hailed.
Leanza is being recalled to discuss the impact of the Cloyne report, which accused Church authorities of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009.
The Cloyne case is only the latest in a series of abuse scandals for the Catholic Church in Ireland that were first exposed in a 2009 report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by priests going back decades.
Last week, the Irish parliament passed a motion denouncing the Vatican's role in "undermining child protection frameworks" following the publication of the report.
The Vatican has strengthened rules against abuse after a wave of scandals across Europe and the United States but campaigners say it has not gone nearly far enough and has failed to punish bishops responsible for the cover-up.
In language never before used by an Irish leader, an outraged Kenny told parliament this month that the Church's inability to deal with the cases showed a culture of "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism" at the Vatican.
Kenny 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".
The Vatican said last week that it would respond to the report at "an appropriate moment" and appealed for "objectivity".
Father Michael Collins, a Dublin priest and author of a book on Pope John Paul II, told The Associated Press news agency the meaning of the envoy's recall was unclear.
"We don't know if he [has] actually been recalled just for consultations or recalled, which means his appointment here is finished," he told Irish public radio.
Collins said he expected the Vatican to be taking Kenny's criticisms "very, very seriously".