The local diocese of the Catholic Church had the second highest percentage of alleged offenders in the country, new documents reveal.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released details on the numbers of priests that were accused of child sexual abuse during a 60-year period.
From 1950 to 2010, in the Diocese of Sandhurst, which includes Shepparton, Bendigo and Echuca, Wangaratta and Wodonga, 14.7 per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators.
The high percentage was second only to the Diocese of Sale, where 15.1 per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators of abuse during the same period.
Prominent Catholic Church critic and former priest Frank Purcell said the figures were horrifying.
‘‘A very significant factor in this is that the clergy in a way were a protected species,’’ Mr Purcell said.
‘‘They just weren’t accountable in a way the rest of the church were — if you were a layperson in a school and you swiped money or interfered with a child you would be sacked, if you were a priest you got away with it.’’
Based in Shepparton, Mr Purcell was a priest for more than 20 years, and was highly critical of how the church handled complaints from his time in Ireland in the 1960s.
He hoped the information from the Royal Commission would lead to lasting change within the church.
‘‘It is still operating under a feudal system where the lord of the manor was beyond reproach,’’ he said.
‘‘I think what is going to happen is there is going to be a major restructuring of the complaints system in the church.
‘‘The people will be held accountable.’’
Prominent Catholic campaigner against abuse, Catherine Dooley, was shocked her diocese was one of the worst in the country for allegations of abuse.
‘‘At the end of every statistic is a child who has been broken,’’ Ms Dooley said.
‘‘I definitely knew there had been cases of abuse in the Sandhurst Diocese, but this is just staggering.’’
In 2015 she made headlines when she campaigned, along with Mr Purcell, for the Pope to sack Cardinal George Pell.
She hoped the church in Australia would change as a result of the overwhelming numbers of allegations.
‘‘What we have been calling for is accountability, transparency, consultation, compassion and compensation,’’ she said.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was formed in 2012 by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, after years of growing pressure for a thorough inquiry into the extent of the issue.
The commission was having public hearings in Sydney into the policies and procedures of the Catholic Church about allegations of child sexual abuse.
- Barclay White