Cardinal Sean Brady said he was following bishops' orders
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland says he will only resign over claims he helped cover up sex abuse if he is asked to do so by the Pope.
Cardinal Sean Brady was at meetings in the 1970s where two abused teenagers signed vows of silence over their complaints against Fr Brendan Smyth.
Fr Smyth was a notorious sex offender jailed in the 1990s for child abuse.
"There was no cover up, I believed those people. I brought what I heard to the bishop," Cardinal Brady said.
The complaints of abuse were investigated by Cardinal Brady in his capacity as secretary to the bishop of Kilmore in 1975.
Cardinal Brady said he had been following his bishop's orders and there were no guidelines for dealing with such investigations at that time.
"Now I know with hindsight that I should have done more. I thought at that time I was doing what I was required to do, and not just that, but most effectively. I acted with great urgency to get that evidence and produce it.
"I believed in doing so, I was following the most effective route to get this stopped. That is my concern and always was - the safety of children."
He said his actions were part of a process that removed the shamed cleric's licence to act as a priest.
He said he did not believe this was a resigning matter.
However, in an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE last December, the cardinal said he, himself, would resign if he found that a child had been abused as a result of any managerial failure on his part.
"I would remember that child sex abuse is a very serious crime and very grave and if I found myself in a situation where I was aware that my failure to act had allowed or meant that other children were abused, well then, I think I would resign," he said.
At that time, the cardinal apologised on behalf of the Church after an Irish government report revealed abuse over decades, a systematic cover-up by the Church and a lack of action by Irish police.
He said: "No-one is above the law in this country.
"Every Catholic should comply fully with their obligations to the civil law and co-operate with the Gardai (Irish police) in the reporting and investigation of any crime."
He said children's welfare was now a priority for the Church.
Pope Benedict has had to deal with sex abuse scandals in various countries
Father Smyth was a notorious child sex offender who was believed to have abused at least 20 children over a 40 year period in the north and south of Ireland.
He was eventually convicted and jailed for more than 90 offences, many of them committed after the Brady meetings.
However campaigners believe the cleric could have abused hundreds of children as he was moved around parishes, diocese and countries by the church.
They have accused Cardinal Brady of reckless endangerment and demanded his resignation.
A campaigner for victims of clerical child abuse in Ireland, Colm O'Gorman, said Cardinal Brady should resign.
"He believed that this out of control paedophile [Smyth] had abused children and he did nothing to report this crime to the police either then, or it would appear, at any point over the next 20 years during which Smyth continued to rape and abuse in parishes across the world with near impunity," Mr O'Gorman said.
"Instead he took part in a cover-up of Smyth's crimes and swore his child victims to secrecy," he said.
"At 36 years of age he (Cardinal Brady) was no fresh-faced seminarian, fresh out of college, he was a professor, a teacher and a canon lawyer."
The revelations come as the Catholic Church worldwide grapples with accusations that it covered up abuse by priests.
In recent months paedophile scandals have rocked the church in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.
The Vatican recently denounced attempts to link Pope Benedict XVI to a child abuse scandal in his native Germany.
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said there had been "aggressive" efforts to involve the Pope, but added: "It's clear that these attempts have failed."
The Pope's former diocese earlier said he once unwittingly approved housing for a priest accused of child abuse.
The episode dates back to 1980 when he was archbishop of Munich and Freising, and known as Joseph Ratzinger.