An inquiry into child sexual abuse in Australia has heard that more than 40 per cent of the St John of God Brothers Catholic order is believed to have abused children, with 22 per cent of Christian Brothers and 20 per cent of Marist Brothers also allegedly involved in child sexual abuse.
A hearing in Sydney was told children reporting abuse were often ignored or punished, documents destroyed and secrecy maintained.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was told of the 1,880 alleged perpetrators within the Catholic Church, 572 were priests.
One in five priests in the Benedictine community of New Norcia were alleged perpetrators, while 17 per cent of clergy in the Salesians of Don Bosco order were accused of child abuse.
In her opening address, senior counsel Gail Furness said a survey had revealed 4,444 alleged incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015 were made to Catholic Church authorities.
She said 60 per cent of all abuse survivors attending private meetings as part of the inquiry reported sexual abuse at religious institutions.
Of those, almost two-thirds reported abuse in Catholic institutions.
Ms Furness said the victims’ accounts were “depressingly similar”.
“Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [brothers] were moved.
“The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past,” she said.
“Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”
Ms Furness also revealed that the Holy See refused to hand over documents involving Australian priests accused of abuse.
“The royal commission hoped to gain an understanding of the action taken in each case,” she said.
“The Holy See responded, on July 1st, 2014, that it was ‘neither possible nor appropriate to provide the information requested’,” she said.
Girl victims were on average aged 10 and boys aged 11 at the time they were allegedly abused.
Francis Sullivan, chief executive, of the Truth, Justice and Healing council, set up to co-ordinate the Catholic Church's response to the crisis, said the information "undermines the image and credibility of the priesthood".
“These numbers are shocking, they are tragic, they are indefensible,” he said. “And each entry in this data for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for and protected them.
“The data is an indictment on the priests and religious who abused these children. It also reflects on the church leaders who at times failed to take steps to deal with the abusers, failed to call them to order and failed to deal with them in accordance with the law.”
Mr Sullivan said the abuse was a “massive failure” of the Church and a corruption of the gospel. “As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame,” he said.
One of the priests previously reported to the inquiry is Irish man Finian Egan. In November 2013 Egan was convicted on seven counts of indecent assault and one count of rape between 1961 and 1987.
He will be eligible for parole on December 19th this year.