THE Pope is to be officially warned that the Irish Catholic Church is on the verge of national collapse, it was revealed today.
The caution is to be contained in a report submitted to Pope Benedict XVI by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
The Pope appointed Cardinal O'Malley last May as "apostolic visitor" to the Dublin archdiocese in the wake of the damaging Murphy and Ryan reports into clerical child abuse.
The Vatican said his job was to "explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims''.
He was also asked to "monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse'.'
Reports today revealed Cardinal O'Malley gave a commitment at a private meeting with the Catholic Priests' Association that he would relay to the Pope the true extent of the difficulties facing the Catholic Church here.
The Cardinal took part in in-depth discussions with the association, according to Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery.
The Boston archbishop believes the church in Ireland has at most 10 years to avoid being completely marginalised, Fr Flannery told the annual meeting of The People of God, a lay reform group.
While Cardinal O'Malley was born in the United States, he is a proud Irish-American who frequently talks of his Irish heritage. Part of his responsibilities included meeting with the victims of abuse in the Dublin diocese.
He visited Dublin at the beginning of December and returned in January and February to meet with the victims.
As part of the mission, the former archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, visited the archdiocese of Armagh before Christmas.
In addition, Archbishop of Toronto Christopher Collins and Archbishop of Ottowa Terrence Prendergast are also visiting the archdioceses of Cashel and Tuam respectively.
The Vatican says the delegation is to have completed its mission by May this year. It has still not revealed whether the results of the apostolic visitors would be made public.