DUBLIN � Ireland's senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal Sean Brady, said Monday he would not resign despite admitting he helped the church collect evidence against a child-molesting priest � and never told police about the crimes.
Brady, as a priest and Vatican-trained canon lawyer in 1975, said he interviewed two children about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the Rev. Brendan Smyth. He said both children were required to sign oaths promising not to tell anyone outside the church of their allegations.
Smyth went on to molest and rape scores of other children in Ireland, Britain and the United States before British authorities in neighboring Northern Ireland demanded his arrest in 1994. The Irish government of the day collapsed amid acrimony over why Smyth was not quickly extradited to Belfast.
Brady admitted his role in gathering evidence against Smyth because he has been named as a defendant in a current Dublin lawsuit filed by one of Smyth's female victims. Lawyers in that case unearthed records of Brady's involvement in gathering testimony from two Irish boys abused by Smyth.
Irish newspapers had identified the victims as a 10-year-old altar boy and a 14-year-old girl. But Martin Long, Brady's spokesman, told The Associated Press that both victims were boys.
Brady said it was the responsibility of his diocesan bishop, as well as the leader of Smyth's separate Catholic order of priests, to tell police. But he said the church didn't do this because of "a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy."
"Yes, I knew that these were crimes," Brady said. "But I did not feel that it was my responsibility to denounce the actions of Brendan Smyth to the police. Now I know with hindsight that I should have done more, but I thought at the time I was doing what I was required to do."
Smyth abused at least 90 children in Ireland, Britain and in U.S. parishes in Rhode Island and North Dakota from 1948 to 1993.
His Irish religious order, the Norbertines, gave him sanctuary in the Republic of Ireland in 1991 after one Belfast family told Northern Ireland police he had molested four of the family's children.
After his delayed 1994 arrest and extradition north, Smyth spent three years in a Northern Ireland prison. In 1997 he pleaded guilty to 74 counts of sexually abusing 20 boys and girls between 1958 and 1993 in the Republic of Ireland. He died of a heart attack in an Irish military prison one month into his 12-year sentence.
Several of Smyth's Irish and American victims said Monday they couldn't believe that Brady had known since 1975 about Smyth's pedophilia.
Helen McGonigle, 48, who says Smyth repeatedly molested her four decades ago in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, said the Irish cardinal "sat on this information for 35 years" and was admitting it now only because of the Dublin lawsuit.
"He has absolutely no excuses for that, none whatsoever. He is protecting the hierarchy of the church itself and not protecting children," said McGonigle, who is suing the church in Rhode Island.
And an Irish lawmaker, Roisin Shortall, said the cardinal was "hopelessly compromised" and may have been guilty of taking part in a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
"It is bad enough that children should have been abused by a priest, but it is almost beyond belief that these children should also have been required to take an oath that they would not disclose the abuse to anyone," she said.
Ireland's leading lobby group for victims of Catholic child abuse, One in Four, said Brady had demonstrated appalling judgment.
"One does not need to be a learned theologian or an ordained priest to appreciate how grievously wrong it is to silence young children to protect a sex offender," said One in Four director Maeve Lewis. "People from every walk of life would instinctively know that such a course of action is completely misguided, and would also know that it is illegal to collude to protect a criminal."
Brady said he would resign as leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics only if Pope Benedict XVI asked him to go.
The pontiff so far has failed to accept the 3-month-old resignation offers of three other Irish bishops who have been implicated in Catholic abuse cover-ups in Dublin. The reform-minded Dublin archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, had pressed for all three to go, but other Irish bishops have criticized Martin for not adequately defending the church against outside attack.
Instead, the pope is expected to publish a pastoral letter soon to the Irish people. Irish church leaders, who have been helping to draft its contents, expect the letter to be distributed at Masses throughout Ireland at Easter next month.
A top Vatican official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, forecast that the pope would speak with a "clear and decisive voice" in the letter.
The Vatican is on the defensive over an ever-widening array of child-abuse scandals in other European countries, particularly the pope's homeland of Germany. Since January about 300 Germans have come forward to allege that priests assaulted, molested or raped them in Catholic boarding schools.
On Monday, the Munich archdiocese – which Benedict oversaw from 1977 to 1982 – announced that a priest originally convicted of sexually abusing children in 1986 has been suspended from pastoral duties because he had broken a promise not to have contact with minors.