World-first data from the Catholic church has revealed seven per cent of priests are accused child sex abusers. The shocking figures coincide with the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's 15th and final public hearing on the church, beginning in Sydney on Monday.
This is the first time in the world Catholic church records on child sex abuse have been analysed for public consideration, and it covers church records from to 1950-2010.
More than 20 per cent of the members of some Catholic religious orders — including Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers — were allegedly involved in child sexual abuse, the hearing was also told.
In her opening address, counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness , SC, said a survey revealed 4,444 alleged incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015.
The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.
The church's Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan said the data would reveal a horrific story of abuse at the hands of priests.
Australia's most senior Catholic leaders will have to explain why widespread child sexual abuse continued for several decades while convincing a royal commission the church is acting to ensure it is not repeated.
Six of Australia's seven Catholic archbishops and the leaders of its religious orders have been told to appear before the child abuse royal commission.
The data covers reports made to the church and will therefore still not reveal the full extent of the abuse, given many victims never come forward.