IMAGE - Getty Image
The Catholic Church has a solemn obligation to fix its colossal failure to protect children from sexual abuse and prevent it from happening again, its Australian leaders say.
The church as an institution has been responsible for shocking child sexual abuse and therefore has an obligation to be a significant part of the solution, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe says.
"There may be many people who would think that our record and our reputation is so damaged that we have nothing to offer, and I would understand that, but I think that, tragically and unfortunately, we have learnt an awful lot about this terrible scourge," he said.
The church has a most solemn obligation to be part of the solution but must work with others, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge told the child sex abuse royal commission.
"I say this as a leader of an institution that is hugely embedded in this society and therefore has a special responsibility to exercise responsible citizenship, which, in this particular regard, we have failed to do."
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher described the church's response to the child abuse as criminal negligence.
"In other cases, I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights. They just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."
Archbishop Fisher said there was tremendous ignorance of the prevalence of "this terrible evil" and its damage, as well as a desire to protect the church and avoid scandal.
"I don't mean that people didn't know it was evil, that it was a terrible sin and a crime - they knew that full well and that's part of why they covered it up when it happened.
"But I think they didn't appreciate the long-term damage this was doing to people, the repetitiveness of it, the almost addictiveness of it in some of the perpetrators; the fact that there is no way to manage that by moving someone somewhere else - that you have to completely contain them, possibly for the rest of their life.
"I think people didn't understand that and maybe we still don't fully understand the phenomenon of pedophilia."
Archbishop Costelloe warned the church must not become complacent.
"I think one of the big challenges for all of us around the country as far as the Catholic Church is concerned is to avoid any hint that we're now on top of this issue and we can say 'okay, we ticked that box' and we move on."
Australia's five metropolitan archbishops will again be grilled by the royal commission in Sydney on Friday.