updated 3/15/2010 1:29:44 PM ET 2010-03-15T17:29:44

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 had not been extradited to Belfast.

Brady admitted his role in gathering evidence against Smyth because he has been named as a defendant in a Dublin lawsuit filed by one of Smyth's victims. Lawyers in that case unearthed records of Brady's involvement in gathering testimony from two Irish victims who said they were abused by Smyth — one a 10-year-old altar boy, the other a 14-year-old girl — around 1970.

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."

At least 90 children abused
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 pleaded guilty to 17 counts of indecently assaulting five girls and two boys in Belfast and 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 a military prison one month into his 12-year Irish sentence.

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.

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