YESTERDAY’S apology by the Catholic Church has been a long time coming. The Church has known for decades that some priests have inflicted horrific sexual abuse on children who trusted them.

It has known and done nothing to give the victims support and help. Instead its efforts have concentrated on covering up the crimes and protecting the perpetrators.

Yesterday’s publication of the McLellan report and the apology delivered by Archbishop Phillip Tartaglia may have been years too late but have to be regarded as at least steps in the right direction.

The report contains many sensible recommendations, which the Church has promised to act upon.

It urges the Church, for instance, to scrap its existing safeguarding policies and replace them with new practices that are fit for purpose. It calls for a consistent approach to dealing with allegations across the country and better training in the Church.

Overall the report has been described as a catalogue of failing and it has to be a welcome development that the Church is willing to admit to the dark deeds which have been carried out by those who claimed to be offering spiritual advice and comfort.

An “unmistakeable and unequivocal” apology on behalf of the Church was another of the report’s recommendations and Archbishop Tartaglia delivered exactly that yesterday.

The question now is whether that apology and the recommended changes are in themselves enough to win back the trust the Church has lost through a string of scandals. They include the actions of its former leader in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Many victims of sexual abuse have greeted yesterday’s apology with disdain, arguing that it comes too late and does little to address their suffering or to help them with the healing process.

And indeed it remains to be seen if yesterday’s developments truly indicate a genuine understanding of the many ways the Church failed its followers, and a genuine remorse for those failings, or whether they show simply that the Church is bowing to public pressure to make the right noises.

Fine words are all very well but they have to be backed up by firm and decisive action.

It is right and proper that the Church should take every step necessary to reduce the risk of any sexual abuse in future but it needs to address the pain and suffering still ruining the lives of those who fell victim to its priests in the past.

It is all very well to apologise for its “slow, unsympathetic and uncaring” response in the past but that response must change in the here and now.

There are, for example, priests who suffered and continue to suffer harsh punishments for “whistleblowing” on past abuse. Will the Church’s attitude to these priests change? It must.

Forgiveness for past sins should not be ruled out but the Church has not yet shown it deserves such forgiveness. It has taken the right steps but it is reasonable to expect strong action in the near future.

Catholic abuse scandal: 'The church’s apology? It’s just a joke’

'We say sorry. We ask forgiveness.’ Act of contrition by Archbishop over Catholic abuse scandal