The head of the Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, admitted Wednesday that the church's response to abuse had been "hopelessly inadequate."
"The church must continue to deal with the enormity of the hurt caused by abuse of children by some clergy ... and the hopelessly inadequate response to that abuse in the past," Brady said Wednesday.
Church leaders must "own up to and take responsibility for any mismanagement or cover-up of child abuse," he said.
The cardinal also apologized for his role in the church's investigation into an abusive priest in 1975.
"I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart," he said at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Ireland.
"I also apologize to all those who feel I have let them down. Looking back I am ashamed that I have not always upheld the values that I profess and believe in," Brady said, according to a copy of the remarks released by Ireland's Catholic Communications Office.
The deeply Catholic country has been badly shaken by a government-backed report that found the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Catholic Church authorities in Ireland covered up child abuse by priests from 1975 to 2004. Child sexual abuse was widespread then, the report found.
Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday he has finished writing his official statement, or pastoral letter, on the child abuse scandal facing the Catholic Church in Ireland.
He will sign the letter Friday and send it "soon after," Benedict told the faithful in an address on St. Patrick's Day.
"My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal," he said.
- CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin, Germany, contributed to this report.