The Church of Ireland, the Irish branch of the Anglican Communion, has been the latest institution forced to deal with the issue of child sexual abuse after 77-year-old Patrick O'Brien, a lay volunteer at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, was jailed for 13 years for abusing 14 boys over 40 years.

The issue is an uncomfortable one as Ireland's largest religious minority has largely been spared the spate of abuse cases which hit the majority Roman Catholic Church, a key factor in the decline of weekly Mass attendance in the Republic from 91% in 1973 to 35% at the most recent survey in 2012.

Church hit by serious allegations

O'Brien, who was treasurer of a fundraising committee at what is the church's National Cathedral, abused boys aged seven to 16, at locations in Kildare, Westmeath, on his boat in Galway, as well as inside the Cathedral. Many of the victims were choristers.

He was actually convicted in 1989 but avoided jail and continued to abuse for another 25 years.

The cathedral has apologised for not providing victims and their families with enough care and support.

This has been welcomed by Kerry Lawless, who has gone public about the fact that as a 15-year-old pupil of the nearby St Patrick's Cathedral Grammar School, he helped secure O'Brien's 1989 conviction. However, he is critical of the authorities of the time for failing to inform parents that a child abuser was in the area and allowing him to remain involved.

Cover-up conspiracy

A number of senior clergy, notably Canon Stephen Neill, son of a former Archbishop of Dublin, have also been very critical of the actions of former deans and other key figures at the Cathedral and want stronger action to prevent child abuse cases. The news comes at a time when the church has appointed a child protection officer, Gabriel Chrystal, who has worked with UK police forces before returning to his native Ireland.

The Church of Ireland population of the Republic has grown dramatically in the last quarter century, after decades of decline, from just over 89,000 in 1991 to over 129,000 at the 2011 census.