The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, has vowed to stay on as he attempted to distance himself from a secret inquiry into one of the country's most dangerous paedophiles.
Even though he was part of the 1975 investigation into allegations Fr Brendan Smyth had attacked at least five children, the Cardinal blamed superiors for failing to stop the priest abusing children over the next 20 years.
Rejecting growing demands for his resignation, he declared: "There's no cloaking over or brushing under the carpet.
"We're not hiding behind procedures. There was no desire on my part to cover up, it was to make sure that this abuse stopped."
Cardinal Brady, who is due to retire in 2014, faced renewed and deepening demands to quit over the scandal after it emerged a then 14-year-old victim of Smyth's warned him in secret interviews that it was likely the late priest was abusing five other named children.
"I was shocked, appalled and outraged when I first discovered in the mid-1990s that Brendan Smyth had gone on to abuse others," he said.
Amid the clamour for his resignation, church sources indicated an assistant would be appointed to support the Cardinal by the end of the year - at least two years after the request was first made.
It is expected the coadjutor bishop will ultimately take over in the Armagh Archdiocese when the Cardinal retires aged 75.
The Primate, a canon lawyer and part-time diocesan secretary at the time, said he regretted some actions during the inquiry but insisted responsibility for the Smyth scandal does not lie with him. He blamed Fr Kevin Smith, the superior in Smyth's Norbertine Order.
He also claimed that as a priest supporting the investigation, even under today's rules which enforce mandatory reporting, he would not have been the person responsible for alerting authorities.
"I wasn't scared or intimidated, not at all," the Cardinal said.
"I took down everything I heard and referred it back to the people who were in a position to act."
The Cardinal also claimed his role in the internal Church inquiry, officially recorded as note-taker, had been deliberately exaggerated and misrepresented in a BBC documentary aired last night.
"With others, I feel betrayed that those who had the authority in the church to stop Brendan Smyth failed to act on the evidence I gave them. However, I also accept that I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society and the church, which thankfully is now a thing of the past," he said.
Cardinal Brady, a boarding-school teacher in Cavan at the time of the inquiry, was drafted in to record confidential interviews with victim Brendan Boland. He was told the names and addresses of another five victims.
Then a priest aged 33, he went on to conduct a second private interview with another victim to corroborate the allegations against Smyth. He did not tell the child's parents.
Reports were then filed to his superior, the late Bishop Francis McKiernan of Kilmore.
"I deeply regret that those with the authority and responsibility to deal appropriately with Brendan Smyth failed to do so, with tragic and painful consequences for those children he so cruelly abused," the Cardinal said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who last year launched an unprecedented attack on the church in the wake of a fifth damning inquiry into clerical abuse and agreed to close the Irish embassy in the Vatican, said the Cardinal should reflect on the new revelations.
Cardinal Brady has the backing of the Vatican's chief investigator, Monsignor Charles J Scicluna, who said there is no reason for him to resign. Armagh Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Clifford also offered his support.
Three years ago, when serious allegations about Cardinal Brady's role in the canonical inquiry into Smyth emerged, he said he would resign if he found his actions or failings had led to another child being abused.
He attempted to qualify that today by saying he was referring specifically to responsibilities he had as a bishop.
"In 1975, I was not a bishop. I was not in that role," he added.
Some children were abused by Smyth for years after the internal church inquiry.
It was not until 1994 that Smyth was convicted in a Belfast court of 17 counts of sexual abuse. Three years later in Dublin, he pleaded guilty to another 74 counts of child sexual abuse. He died in prison in 1997.
Brendan Boland, who had been abused during the 1970s from the age of 12, gave the secret inquiry a list of other children he believed were victims - a boy and girl from Belfast and from Cavan, and another boy.
He was told by investigating priests to swear an oath of confidentiality during the Church inquiry which Cardinal Brady now insists was to protect him and ensure Smyth could not manipulate evidence.
The Cardinal accused the BBC of airing a misleading documentary which incorrectly reported his role in the inquiry and his response to the claims.
Late last year Cardinal Brady offered to apologise in person to Mr Boland following an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.
The Vatican press office declined to comment.
The BBC responded to the Cardinal's claims, saying: "We stand by the programme, which accurately and impartially reports its findings.
"It has been made in accordance with BBC editorial guidelines and fairly represents the position of the church."
John Kelly, of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said the Cardinal has failed, like most of the senior hierarchy, to grasp moral leadership.
"He instead reverted to the omerta position of his predecessors, which makes his current position untenable," Mr Kelly said.