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Ireland's top cardinal resists calls to resign

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has denied claims of covering up investigations into sexual abuse in the Seventies, as calls grow for his resignation.

Catholic Primate Cardinal Sean Brady admitted he was at a meeting where children abused by convicted sex offender Fr Brendan Smyth were forced to take a vow of silence.

But the senior churchman defended his role in the 1975 investigation, stating his actions were part of a process that removed the shamed cleric's licence to act as a priest.

"Frankly I don't believe that this is a resigning matter," said Cardinal Brady.

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland which led to the collapse of the Irish Government's Fianna Fail/Labour coalition in 1994.

The prolific offender was later jailed for sex attacks on about 90 children in the north and south of Ireland over a 40 year period.

Survivors of sex abuse - who believe the cleric could have abused hundreds as he was moved around parishes, diocese and countries - accused the Cardinal of reckless endangerment and demanded his resignation.

Colm O'Gorman, who founded support group One in Four, said the Cardinal was personally implicated in the gross failures of the Catholic Church in the management of Smyth.

"For another 18 years, as Sean Brady rose through the ranks in the Catholic Church hierarchy, Brendan Smyth continued to rape and abuse children," he said.

The Cardinal has denied he was involved in a cover-up, adding he was not the designated person to report Smyth to authorities back in the 1970s.

"I insist again I did act and acted effectively in that inquiry to produce the grounds for removing Fr Smyth from ministry and specifically it was underlined he was not to hear confessions, and that was very important," he said.

But the revelation will again damage the Catholic Church in Ireland where last year two reports criticised the past mishandling of child sex abuse.

While one found the Catholic Church and Irish Government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in state care another unveiled a catalogue of cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin to protect the church.

Last month the Cardinal and his bishops were summonsed to Rome to face Pope Benedict XVI - who in recent days was forced to distance himself from a child abuse scandal in his native Germany.

Maeve Lewis, of One in Four, said the latest disclosure removes Cardinal Brady's credibility to provide the leadership.

"We cannot know how many children may have been saved from harm if Brendan Smyth had been prosecuted in the 1970s, but all those who were party to the decision to protect him carry a heavy responsibility for the victims suffering," said Ms Lewis.

Meanwhile Andrew Madden, who in 1995 became the first in Ireland to go public with an abuse lawsuit against the church, said he was not shocked the most senior cleric in the country could be implicated in a cover-up.

"I have always thought the abuse of children was widespread across the country and I believe every Diocese in the country will have allegations which were mishandled," said Mr Madden.

"It's only a case of when people are found out."