Ublin -- The Roman Catholic Church offered a high-profile apology and more than $300,000 yesterday to a former altar boy sexually abused by a priest.
It was the biggest individual settlement of its kind in Ireland, where hundreds of such cases have yet to face court.
In a statement read before the High Court, Cardinal Desmond Connell, archbishop of the Dublin archdiocese, expressed ''profound regrets'' about ''the injury caused to Mervyn Rundle by Father Tom Naughton.''
Rundle, now 28, was abused by Naughton when he was 9 and 10. He and his father initially reported the abuse to church authorities in 1985, but Naughton wasn't convicted of molesting boys until 1998, when he received a three-year prison sentence.
Connell acknowledged in his apology that even before Rundle was abused, allegations had arisen against Naughton that ''had they been more successfully pursued, could have resulted in his being withdrawn from parochial duties.''
''Lessons have been learned from Mr. Rundle's pain,'' wrote Connell.
He earlier this year had all priests in his archdiocese read a general apology to worshipers.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Rundle said the church shouldn't have taken so long to act and that he had insisted on an apology as part of the settlement.
''I am delighted the Catholic Church has at last acknowledged the pain it has caused a frightened young boy for so long. I am not sure how long it will take to forgive them for taking 18 years to do so,'' he said.
Lawyers from both sides said the settlement was in excess of $300,000, although they declined to give the exact figure.
Ireland, a predominantly Catholic nation of 3.8 million people, has been rocked for the past decade by scandals involving cover-ups of sexually abusive priests.
One Irish government collapsed in 1994 over allegations that the attorney general delayed the extradition of a serial abuser to neighboring Northern Ireland.
In recent years, scores of priests have received criminal convictions and prison terms for the molestation of children, usually for crimes committed decades earlier.
Ireland's 26 archdioceses face a potential mountain of lawsuits from people who have long suppressed their stories of youthful abuse at the hands of parish priests.
Most lawsuits have been on hold pending the completion of a state-ordered inquiry into the church's traditional practice of transferring abusive priests rather than handing them over to police.