The Australian Catholic Church has released new data that shows 7 per cent of Catholic priests working in the country between 1950 and 2009 faced allegations of sexual abuse.
The figures, which were compiled in co-operation with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, showed there were 4,444 reported incidences of abuse between 1980 and 2015, with 1,880 alleged perpetrators.
According to the statistics, the Benedictine Community of New Norcia had the highest weighted average of sexual abuse complaints against its priests. More than one-fifth (21.5 per cent) of personnel at the Western Australian institution were accused of misconduct.
Of the 1,880 alleged offenders, 30 per cent were priests, while 32 per cent were non-ordained religious brothers. The latter group still run a number of schools and orphanages across Australia.
Royal commission hearing in Sydney
Victims of sexual abuse can seek compensation for the mental and physical suffering they've experienced, even many years after the events occurred.
However, the extent of sexual abuse within the church is only now fully coming to light in Australia as a royal commission hearing got underway earlier this month. The hearing hopes to address failures in current policies that church authorities have towards sexual abuse allegations.
Gail Furness SC, in an opening address to the hearing, said victims' accounts of reporting abuse were "depressingly similar".
"Children were ignored or worse, punished. Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed, as did cover-ups," she stated.
"For so long, this has been the way they [the church] acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, [so] that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate."
Church admits data is "shocking"
Francis Sullivan of the church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council said the number of children who were allegedly abused is "shocking", "tragic" and "indefensible".
The hearing will take three weeks, and the Archbishops of Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra-Goulburn and Melbourne are all expected to give evidence.
Archbishop Denis Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, apologised on behalf of the Catholic Church.
"I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently: 'It is a sin that shames us.'"
Have you or a loved one been the victim of sexual abuse? Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to learn more about how we can help you.