The Archbishop of the Canberra-Goulburn Catholic Diocese, which includes Tumut, will testify at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse next week.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse will sit before Justice Peter McLennan on February 21, to discuss what safeguards the church has in place to protect children.
Records have shown that the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese had a rate of paedophile priests higher than the national average, with 8.5 per cent of their priests in the 2000s being alleged perpetrators.
In other words, one in twelve priests in this area are accused of having sexually abused children.
And since less than 20 per cent of survivors are estimated to have come forward, the true numbers could be higher still.
Archbishop Prowse has headed the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese since 2013.
Prior to this appointment he served as the Bishop of Sale, in South-East Victoria, the nation’s worst diocese for sexual abuse, with 15 per cent of priests since 1950 being accused offenders.
He is speaking as part of the three-week final hearing of the Royal Commission, which aims to investigate the possibility of institutional change.
In a letter to his parish, Archbishop Prowse asked the congregation to pray for both victims and priests.
“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has revealed deep wounds,” he said.
“Victims of child abuse by priests and religious have suffered enormously. Their wounds are deep and profound.
“Let us pray for them. Let us pray that God will guide them to those persons who may help to heal their suffering. In particular, may Jesus, the Divine Physician, touch them and heal them.
“I feel deeply, too, for my brother priests who serve you in this your parish. Please support your priests, care for them, and pray for them in this fragile time.”
The Catholic Church has been highly criticised for their response to the abuse, preferring to handle it internally and prioritising the needs of the perpetrators and their reputation rather than the victims, critics say.
“Children were ignored or, worse, punished,” said Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission SC Gail Furness.
“Allegations were not investigated. Priests … were moved. The parishes and communities to which they moved knew nothing of their past. Documents were not kept or they were destroyed.”
Archbishop Prowse will discuss the possibility of reform at the Commission.
Over the past 35 years, 4,444 people made complaints of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions.
The average age of victims at the time of abuse was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.
95 per cent of the perpetrators and the vast majority of the victims were male.
By far the worst offenders were in religious orders: for example, over 40% of John of God Brothers, which ran schools for boys with intellectual disabilities, 22% of Christian Brothers and 20% of Marist Brothers were identified as alleged perpetrators.
The highest member of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, has fled to Rome and refused to come back to Sydney to testify in the Royal Commission on the basis of a heart condition.
He has been the subject of a sexual abuse investigation himself.