LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Another former official in Ireland has claimed that the Vatican sought a deal to protect the Catholic Church from the legal repercussions of the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

Former foreign minister Dermot Ahern said he was approached by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was the Vatican Secretary of State, in 2004 asking for an understanding from the Irish government in relation to what might happen with future claims in Ireland against the Catholic Church.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Ahern said the meeting took place during celebrations in Rome marking the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See.

“I got the impression he had just come from the United States, that there had been a major settlement costing millions, which, he said, was over and above their moral responsibility,” he told the broadcaster.

“As the conversation went on, it was quite clear he was referring to some sort of an indemnity, or part indemnity, from the Irish taxpayer in relation to anything that might come down the tracks. [He said this was] particularly in the context of the educational connection that priests have with our educational system,” Ahern said.

Earlier this week, former Irish president, Mary McAleese, told the Irish Times she met with Sodano in 2003, who seemed to ask her to facilitate an agreement between the Vatican and the Irish government “under which Church documentation would be protected” from being accessed by government officials.

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At the time, the clerical abuse scandal was heating up in the country, and the Ryan commission – established in 2000 – was investigating acts of abuse in Church institutions.

In 2002, the Irish government agreed to an indemnity deal with religious orders against compensation claims in exchange for over $100 million. In the summer of 2004, Ireland passed legislation mandating an investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

In his interview with RTÉ News, Ahern said Sodano was “fully briefed” on the situation.

“He knew what he was talking about in relation to Ireland. I cut off the conversation fairly quickly, to be honest,” Ahern said.

Sodano, now 90, retired as the Vatican Secretary of State in 2006. In 2005, he was appointed Dean of the College of Cardinals, a position he still holds.

Pope Francis will visit Ireland later this month when Dublin hosts the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families.