The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the "anger and dismay" over the alleged cover up of sex abuse by some Catholic clergy was "proper".
But he said allegations about the Pope's involvement were unfounded.
The Pope has been criticised over his handling of the 1990s case of a US priest suspected of abusing children.
The Archbishop told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show England and Wales had had its "fair share of abuse", but "handled it properly" in an "open and transparent way".
But he said child abuse was probably the most hidden crime - with 75% of the abuse in this country taking place within the family - and cases would "take a long time to emerge".
Archbishop Nichols also staunchly defended Pope Benedict XVI, saying he had introduced changes into Church law to protect children.
"He pushed forward for example a fast-track to defrock priests who have committed abuse. He changed the statute of limitations in Church law.
"He changed the law so that sexual offences committed with anyone under the age of 18 would be a crime in Church law," he said.
Campaigners are also staging a demonstration to urge the Pope to resign over the alleged cover up.
Protesters gathered outside Westminster Cathedral from 1200 BST amid claims he failed to ensure priests who abused young people were reported to police.
The Protest the Pope coalition says he has personal responsibility for letting many paedophile priests escape justice.
The Pope has apologised to victims of abuse before and recently said sorry in a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics.
He said he acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families.
Activist Peter Tatchell, who has helped organise the demonstration, claimed the pontiff ordered a cover-up in a 2001 edict to Catholic Bishops worldwide.
He said: "He failed to ensure that priests who raped and sexually abused young people were reported to the police.
"This is why he is not welcome in the UK and why we object to him being honoured with a state visit in September, especially a state visit that is being funded by the taxpayer."
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