Seven per cent of priests in the Catholic Church in Australia allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010, an inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in the country has been told.
The statistics were released during the opening address of a hearing of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on 6 February. The commission - which is Australia's highest form of inquiry - has been investigating since 2013 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.
The commission has gathered scores of testimonies, which Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission described as "depressingly similar" in her opening address.
"Children were ignored, or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [figures] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past," ABC Australia reports Furness to have said.
Furness said that 60 per cent of all survivors of abuse were from faith-based organisations. Of those, nearly two-thirds concerned the Catholic Church.
Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia, said Furness.
The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. On average, it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported.
The commission also details abuse claims against 10 religious orders in the same six decades.
Data published by the Royal Commission shows four orders had allegations of abuse against more than 20 per cent of their members.
The commission found that one Catholic order, the Brothers of St John the God which established a special school for boys with learning difficulties at Lake Macquarie, in New South Wales, had more than four in ten of its brothers accused of abuse.
Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, which is coordinating the Catholic Church's response to the inquiry, said the data reflected "a massive failure" by the church to protect children, reports Associate Press.
"These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible," a tearful Sullivan told the commission. "As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame."
Several senior Australian Catholics will be testifying over the next few weeks. The commission's final report is due by the end of this year.