The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Sunday apologised for criticising the Catholic Church over the way it had handled revelations of widespread child abuse by its priests in Europe and America.

Dr. Williams expressed his “deep sorrow'' for his remarks in which he had said the Catholic Church had lost “all credibility'' following the child abuse scandal. The apology came after senior figures in the Catholic Church reacted angrily to his comments and he was accused of breaking the “ecumenical protocol'' which involves interacting graciously with members of other churches.

Dr. Williams personally apologised to the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, head of the biggest Catholic diocese in Ireland, who had said that he was “stunned” by his remarks.

A spokeswoman for Dr. Williams was reported as saying he telephoned Archbishop Martin to convey his “deep sorrow and regret''.

“The Archbishop had no intention of criticising or attacking the Catholic Church as a whole,” she said.

On Saturday, Dr. Williams had said in a BBC interview that the abuse scandal had affected not just the Catholic Church but its relations with the public.

“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. 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,” he said.

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