(CBS News) An Irishman named Diarmuid Martin says the Catholic Church in Ireland has reached a breaking point, a crisis that he says results from the sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up by the Church. Martin has provided tens of thousands of pages of evidence against specific priests, and his words and actions carry extraordinary weight. That's because Diarmuid Martin is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. Bob Simon reports.
The following script is from "The Archbishop of Dublin" which aired on March 4, 2012. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Tom Anderson, producer.
The head of the Catholic Church may be in Rome, but its heart has always been in Ireland. From the early fifth century, when Saint Patrick was named a bishop and started converting the Irish, Catholicism has been more than a religion. It's been a culture and a way of life.
But in recent years - the faith of the Irish has been sorely tested, not their faith in God necessarily, but their faith in the Church, after several damning investigations provided appalling detail on the sexual abuse of children by priests.
For decades, the outrage was covered up and the priests were largely protected. An Irishman named Diarmuid Martin would not disagree with any of this. He has dared to publicly criticize the Church, and his words carry a lot of clout because Diarmuid Martin is the archbishop of Dublin.
Bob Simon: You have said that the Church in Ireland has reached its breaking point.
Archbishop Martin: It has. It has reached a breaking point. It's at a very difficult stage.
Simon: To what extent, archbishop, do you think this crisis in the church is due to the sexual scandals?
Martin: Oh, enormously.
There's overwhelming evidence that the Church hierarchy was not only aware of the sexual abuse, but did little about it. The Dublin Archdiocese knew who the predator priests were, even wrote reports about them but then locked up the files. Investigators on a state panel, the Murphy Commission, asked for the files, but the Church refused until Diarmuid Martin became archbishop.
Martin: I provided the Murphy Commission investigation into Dublin Diocese over 65,000 documents. And the material was there. It was in my archives.
The documents revealed that one priest admitted abusing over a hundred children. Another said he abused children twice a month for 25 years. Archbishop Martin believes thousands of children suffered similar fates.
Martin: Abuse isn't-- it isn't-- it isn't just the, you know, the actual sexual acts, which are horrendous, but sexual abuse of a child is-- it's a total abuse of power. It's actually saying to a child, "I control you." And that is saying to the child, "You're worthless."
To find out how small parishes have been affected by the scandal, we went to the village of Allihies on the Beara Peninsula on the southwestern coast. It doesn't get more Irish than this. No one we talked to was aware of any abuse here, but even so the parish is required to follow strict new church regulations designed to protect children. Hard to believe but priests are now never even allowed to be alone with a child. An adult supervisor has to be there at all times. Monica Polly is on the church council.
Monica Polly: They never take the children out on their own, they never speak with the children on their own, there's always somebody with them.
Under the new regulations, drawn up by Ireland's bishops, any allegation of abuse has to be reported to civil authorities. And any priest accused of abuse has to step down while the charge is being investigated.
Polly: To be honest, I don't think we've seen it all yet.