The leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics said Wednesday he wouldn't resign after a BBC documentary accused him of helping to cover up 1970s child abuse committed by a pedophile priest who went on to assault scores of other children.

Cardinal Sean Brady said the documentary exaggerated his role in his 1975 interviews of two teenage boys abused by priest Brendan Smyth.

Brady said he gave his report as instructed to his bishop, who in turn had responsibility to tell Smyth's religious order leaders. They, not he, had the power to act and failed to do so, Brady said.

"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," Brady said.

His statement did not address why nobody in the church thought to call the police. Nor did it mention that he, as the canon lawyer in the two interviews, required both boys to sign oaths of secrecy promising not to tell anyone outside the church of the abuse they had suffered. He previously has argued that the oaths were designed to protect the rights of the children, not the reputation of the church.

One of those victims, Brendan Boland, told the BBC that Brady and two other priests involved in gathering his 1975 testimony made his father wait outside the room. Boland, aged 14 at the time, said he told the priests the names and addresses of five other boys and girls that were being sexually assaulted by Smyth, including a Belfast boy who had been molested in Boland's presence.

The BBC interviewed all five and reported that their parents never received any message of warning from the church.

The Belfast victim, whose face and identity were shielded on the program, said he had been assaulted for another year, then Smyth turned to his younger sister until 1982, then to four of their cousins until 1988.

Colm O'Gorman, director of rights watchdog Amnesty International in Ireland, said Brady was trying to pin blame for the church's silence on his former bishop and head of Smyth's religious order, both of whom are dead. He said Brady failed to demonstrate the moral courage of the teenage Boland, "who came forward to ensure that no other children suffered like he did."

"Cardinal Brady is offering the classic excuse of the Nazi death camp guard: I was only following orders. This is coming from an institution that is supposed to stand for love, truth and justice," said Gorman, who was himself raped by a priest when he served as an altar boy in his native Wexford. That priest committed suicide shortly before his 1999 criminal trial.

Smyth, who allegedly abused dozens of children in the U.S. states of Rhode Island and North Dakota, was finally imprisoned in the British territory of Northern Ireland in 1994 after his conviction for molesting four children in the same Belfast family. His conviction helped open the floodgates for lawsuits and criminal complaints against hundreds of Irish priests, nuns and other church officials.

A prominent Irish support group for child abuse victims, One in Four, said Brady once declared he would resign if his actions had resulted in abuse of even a single child, and should follow through on that promise now.

"The documentary suggests that many children could have been protected from the sexual predator if Cardinal Brady had not been so invested in protecting the church," One in Four said in a statement.

But Brady, 72, insisted his pledge covered only the years since his 1990s elevation into church management. "In 1975, I was not a bishop," he said.

When pressed later in an interview on Ireland's state RTE radio, Brady said it had "crossed his mind" to resign, but he couldn't justify this, given that he "did what I was expected to do to the best of my ability."

When asked why he never checked to see what happened to Smyth or to the vulnerable children identified in his report, Brady said: "I don't think it was my role to follow through."

Boland, who received confidential legal settlements from Smyth's Norbertine order in 2006 and from the Catholic Church last year, told the BBC that he and his parents received verbal assurances that Smyth would be barred from further contact with children. Instead, the Norbertines transferred him to a series of Irish and American parishes in what it later described as an effort to deter him from forming "attachments" with particular boys and girls.

Starting with Smyth in 1994, the church in Ireland has suffered 18 years of scandal over its systemic cover-up of child abuse within its ranks. In Ireland, where the church still runs many hospitals and most schools, its standing has plummeted. A recent poll commissioned by Irish priests found that barely a third of Catholics still attend weekly Mass, down from 90 percent before the era of scandals began.

Three state-ordered investigations since 2005 have documented how dioceses in Dublin, Wexford and Cork shuttled pedophile priests from parish to parish worldwide, and didn't tell police about any cases, until the mid-1990s in response to public outrage. Four bishops have resigned in response to the probes, but others implicated in cover-ups have refused with the Vatican's backing.

More investigations beckon.

The Irish government in 2001 apologized for its failure to supervise church-run orphanages and residential schools and established a compensation board that over the past decade has paid more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) to 14,000 abuse claimants and their lawyers. A parallel investigation found in 2009 that tens of thousands of children suffered sexual, physical and mental abuse in those workhouse-style institutions, while the church officials inside them enjoyed effective legal impunity, from the 1930s until the last of them closed in the mid-1990s.

The latest investigation published last year revealed that a County Cork bishop was still failing to tell police about suspected pedophile priests as recently as 2008 in violation of the Irish church's own abuse-reporting rules since 1996. Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of driving the culture of cover-up and failing to respond to the investigators' letters seeking evidence. Ireland closed its Vatican embassy in what it described as a cost-cutting move.

Smyth was arrested in Belfast in 1991, but fled to the Norbertines' border abbey. The Republic of Ireland didn't extradite him until 1994 back to Belfast, where he was convicted of 17 counts of rape and indecent assault. The Irish government of the day collapsed amid divisions over why authorities had sat on the British extradition demand for so long.

Smyth later was convicted of 74 counts of child sexual abuse in the Irish Republic and died in a military prison in 1997.

Brady was ordained a priest in 1964, received a doctorate in canon law in 1967, promoted to archbishop of Armagh in 1996, and became a cardinal in 2007. As archbishop in Armagh, a Northern Ireland town that is the ecclesiastical capital for all of Ireland, Brady serves as the Catholic Church's senior figure on the island.



Catholic Church's child protection board in Ireland, http://www.safeguarding.ie/

2009 Dublin Archdiocese and 2011 Cloyne Diocese investigations, http://www.dacoi.ie/

2009 report on abuse in residential institutions for children, http://www.childabusecommission.ie/

Irish compensation board for residential-school victims, http://www.rirb.ie/