Allegations of sexual abuse in the church during his tenure as archbishop of Utrecht for nearly 25 years have troubled the retirement of Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, who is now 79.
Simonis has repeatedly denied knowledge of abusive behavior in the church, and once outraged many when he used an expression of ignorance commonly heard after World War II about atrocities committed by the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands.
Dutch media this week reported that Simonis transferred the unidentified priest after sending him for treatment in the 1990s, then took no further action after hearing complaints from parents about subsequent abuses.
Simonis said the church was aware of the priest's history and had sent him for psychological assessment and therapy before reassigning him to the church in Amersfoort, according to a statement dated Thursday and posted Friday on the website of the Dutch archdiocese.
"The archdiocese never heard from Amersfoort about any repeat of child abuse," he said.
Simonis said the first time he heard of the new allegations was when they appeared in the Dutch media on Thursday.
"It is highly regrettable for victims and I strongly share their suffering," he said, but insisted he had acted according to the information available to him at the time.
"Of course, the question arises if I was careful enough at the time. From what I knew then: Yes," he said. "Should it appear that we did not act carefully enough based on incomplete information, that is very regrettable and should be corrected."
Some 2,000 cases of sexual abuse are being investigated by an independent commission, headed by a former government minister, set up last year when reports of abuse in the church became a worldwide scandal.
But the Dutch church, which has more than 4 million members, first set up an internal body to deal with abuse allegations in 1995. Known as Help and Law, it has been accused of lacking transparency and accountability.
Simonis was archbishop of Utrecht from 1983 to 2007, and was made a cardinal in 1985.
Last month he was summoned to testify in court in the case involving a man who said he was drugged and raped by his priest two decades ago.
Simonis told the court sexual abuse in the church was unknown at the time.
"For us, it did not exist," Simonis said.
In the latest case to come to light, involving another priest identified only as Father Ron, Simonis allegedly allowed the priest to continue with his work even after he had been tried for molesting three 14-year-old boys and given a suspended sentence in 1989.
When the priest was transferred to Amersfoort, parishioners were not told of his past, according to a joint investigation by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, NRC Handelsblad daily and the TV program Nieuwsuur.
The radio quoted one alleged victim, Erwin Meester, as saying the priest assaulted him in a sauna.
"Looking back, I have to conclude that Simonis knowingly provided protection to a pedophile priest, rather than protecting the faithful of the parish as he should have," Meester said.
Father Ron continued to be under investigation as late as 2009 for earlier alleged abuses, the radio said. One case was abandoned since it had exceeded the statute of limitations, and another was dropped for lack of evidence.
Last year the current archbishop, Wim Eijk, barred Father Ron, now 59, from further practice as a priest, the reports said.