AN expert in canon law insisted yesterday he would not report child sex abuse to gardai if a paedophile priest confided his crimes to him.
Monsignor Maurice Dooley was speaking in defence of under-pressure primate Cardinal Sean Brady after revelations he failed to alert gardai about the actions of the notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth when he learnt of them in 1975.
Smyth would go on to abuse children for a further 18 years.
But Mgr Dooley, who studied canon law with Dr Brady, defended the cardinal's silence in 1975, and added that he would not necessarily refer sex crimes against children to gardai nowadays if passed information confidentially.
Mgr Dooley was asked what action he would take if a paedophile priest approached him now to confide his crimes.
"I would not tell anyone," he said. "That is his responsibility. I am considering only my responsibility. My responsibility is to maintain the confidentiality of information which I had been given under the contract of confidentiality.
"There must be somebody else aware of what he is up to, and he could be stopped. It is not my function.
"I would tell (the priest) to stop abusing children," he added.
"But I am not going to go to the police or social services in order to betray the trust he has put in me," said Mgr Dooley who was speaking on BBC Radio Ulster.
His comments contradict national guidelines for safeguarding children introduced by the Catholic Church early last year, whereby church authorities must ensure all allegations or suspicions of child abuse are promptly reported to civil authorities.
"What worries me is that while he may be coming out and saying this, how many other priests and bishops have the same opinion and would act in the same way?" abuse survivor Marie Collins told the Irish Independent.
Legal sources last night said that until 1997 it was a criminal offence not to report knowledge of a crime to the gardai, but that law had been knocked off the statute books without being replaced.
However, a new offence has been created under the Criminal Justice Act 2006 known as reckless endangerment of children, whereby a person having authority for a child can be prosecuted for intentionally or recklessly endangering a child.
The source added that a person could also perhaps be prosecuted for impeding the course of justice but this would only occur if gardai were already investigating the matter.
The Garda Press Office refused to comment on the matter last night.