The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility because of the child abuse scandal, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

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© James Glossop/The TimesThe Archbishop of Canterbury made the comments during an interview with Andrew Marr for the BBC Radio 4 programme Start the Week, to be broadcast on Monday
In a rare breach of ecumenical protocol, Dr Rowan Williams criticised the Catholic Church over its handling of the paedophile priests crisis and made plain his anger over the Pope's plans for a new ordinariate to tempt dissatisfied Anglicans over to Rome.

His comments will add to the cloud gathering over the Pope's four-day visit to Britain in September, when he is expected to give an address in Westminster on moral values in society. More than 10,000 people have signed a "Protest the Pope" petition on Downing Street's website against the £15 million cost of the visit, which is to be shared by the Government and the Church.

The Vatican's troubles mounted yesterday when Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher likened the criticism of the Church over the sex abuse scandal to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.

At a Good Friday ceremony at St Peter's Basilica, Father Raniero Cantalamessa told the congregation, with the Pope listening, that a Jewish friend had said that the accusations reminded him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

The remarks came a few hours before the Pope was scheduled to take part in a Colosseum procession commemorating Christ's suffering before His Crucifixion.

The attempt to equate criticism of the Church with the suffering of Jews is particularly controversial given the accusation that the Church failed to do enough to stop the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews perished.

Commenting for the first time on the crisis gripping the Catholic Church, Dr Williams said that the paedophile priest scandal had been a "colossal trauma" for Ireland in particular.

"I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now," he told Andrew Marr for the BBC Radio 4 programme Start the Week, to be broadcast on Monday. "And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."

Regarding Anglicans who seek to take up the Pope's offer to help them to convert, he pointedly refused to give them his blessing.

"I don't think it's going to be a big deal for the Church of England." He predicted that just a few people would accept the offer. "They will take advantage of it because they believe they ought to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome. I can only say fine, God bless them. I don't at the moment. So we proceed on that basis and we talk with, I hope, a level of mutual respect on that basis."

He was less than effusive about the Pope's visit to Britain. "The Pope will be coming here to Lambeth Palace. We'll have the bishops together to meet him. I'm concerned that he has the chance to say what he wants to say in and to British society, that we welcome him as a valued partner and, you know, that's ... that's about it."

The head of the Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, made only an oblique reference to its troubles when he detailed the need for repentance at Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services in the Armagh Archdiocese.

He was greeted with applause at Armagh Cathedral and at St Patrick's Church, Drogheda, where he has strong support because of his reputation as a good pastor. On a wider stage he is under increasing pressure to go, and sources indicated last night that he was likely to announce his retirement by Pentecost in May, triggering further episcopal resignations and a radical reorganisation of the Church in Ireland.

Catholic bishops worldwide are using Easter, the Christian time of repentance and renewal, as an opportunity to seek forgiveness for the sins of the Church. The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland will offer repentance to the victims of sexual abuse by priests in his Easter Day address.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien will say that Catholics are demoralised and confused by the "many evils" perpetrated by paedophile priests. He will speak of the shame the scandal has brought to the members of the Church in his homily at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The leader of the Church in Germany denounced past failures and mistakes in the Church's handling of complaints of child rape and other abuse. The Church in the country of the Pope's birth is in crisis after dozens of people came forward alleging that they were abused as minors by priests.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg said that news of sexual and physical abuse by priests left the Church with sadness, horror and shame. He said that clerics failed to help victims by a "wrongly intended desire to protect the Church's reputation" and called on the Church to face this painful reality. He added: "Wounds were inflicted that are hardly curable."