Cardinal Sean Brady was backed by his senior advisers when he offered to resign more than two years ago.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland informed the Vatican of his "willingness to stand aside" as one of a range of possible options when his role in the Brendan Smyth controversy became public in 2010.
And his senior advisers backed the move -- expressing concern that the Smyth controversy would damage the church.
The cardinal is now planning an alternative exit strategy.
Cardinal Brady had asked the Pope for 'Episcopal help' or an auxiliary bishop two years ago when the controversy first erupted, but the bishop was not appointed.
However, the church confirmed yesterday that the request has been "reactivated".
Responding to claims by Father Brian D'Arcy and other senior church figures that the cardinal had indicated his desire to step down in March 2010, a church spokesman said yesterday that "no offer of resignation was made".
But this was dismissed as "pure semantics" by several senior clergy.
"The fact is that the cardinal said he was willing to consider all options and that including stepping down," said one senior cleric.
"This was not a secret amongst very many people in the church that the cardinal was willing to stand down."
The cardinal is said to have taken new revelations by the BBC "very badly".
One victim of Brendan Smyth called for a police investigation into why the then Fr John Brady did not inform parents or police about the horrific attacks.
Brendan Boland told the Irish Independent yesterday that he believed "an independent investigation is clearly warranted".
The call was echoed by an American lawyer who was raped by Brendan Smyth when his Order moved him to the US.
Helen McGonigle (50) was abused by Smyth in a parish in Rhode Island, New York, in the late 1960s. Her sister Kathleen, who was also abused by Smyth during confessions, later took her own life.
She supported Mr Boland's calls, insisting: "I plead for both the Republic and Northern Ireland to conduct a public criminal investigation into this whole matter. And that it be made public."
She added: "He (Brady) didn't fulfil the function of a human being, a man in the secular world or follow secular law. And he can't see that.
"When he says 'I did act'. Oh, I'd agree he acted. He acted in the most horrible of ways, in the ways that the Catholic Church required."
Police in Northern Ireland have confirmed they are investigating last Tuesday's BBC broadcast.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny continued to insist yesterday he could not offer an opinion on the cardinal's future because of his office.
Meanwhile, the church will face new questions over its investigation of child abuse when yet another controversial report is issued next month.