Cardinal Godfried Danneels also acknowledged that "all too often" the Roman Catholic Church had given damage control precedence over concern for victims in sexual abuse cases involving clergy.
Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, resigned at the end of April after admitting to a paedophile relationship with his teenage nephew n the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was still a priest.
The victim, according leaked transcripts of a meeting on April 8, was then asked by Cardinal Danneels to keep silent about the abuse until Bishop Vangheluwe retired next year.
The cardinal insisted that he had tried to establish why the family had kept quiet about the abuse for almost 25 years and he denied mentioning the bishop's impending retirement to influence the relatives.
"I never wanted to suggest that it should not be made public," he said.
Cardinal Danneels, who retired in January, has been questioned by police as a witness in an investigation into sexual abuse by the Church in Belgium.
He said that he had only become aware of a sex abuse problem was big after cases emerged in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany.
"We knew of a few cases. But the stream of reactions that came in after Vangheluwe's resignation made the scale of the problem clear, also for me," he said.
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