Australia's Catholic Church on Thursday unveiled a major reform of the way it handles child sex abuse cases, as it acknowledged it had "betrayed" the public with cover-ups which put itself before victims.

The Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, established in response to Australia's ongoing royal commission into institutional child sex abuse, released what it described as the "most significant" reforms in its 200-year history to its processes for dealing with claims of clergy abuse of children.

It came as the commission made public one of the Church's submissions to the inquiry, in which it admitted it was "deeply ashamed" of the extent of clergy sex abuse of children and said many victims "were not believed when they should have been".

"The church is also ashamed to acknowledge that, in some cases, those in positions of authority concealed or covered up what they knew of the facts; moved perpetrators to another place thereby enabling them to offend again, or failed to report matters to the police when they should have," the submission said, describing it as "indefensible".

"Too often in the past it is clear some Church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the Church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of Church personnel. That too was, and is, inexcusable."

"In such ways, Church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the wider community."

Under reform proposals, which have been endorsed by the Church's hierarchy and will be presented for formal approval in the first half of 2014, independent commissioners would be appointed to deliberate on compensation instead of determinations being made internally.

Francis Sullivan, head of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, said an independent national board would also be appointed to develop and administer child protection standards within the Church and report regularly to the public on adherence to enhance transparency.

"These proposals recognise that we must do better when we are dealing with victims of sexual abuse and as we work to make sure our institutions are as safe as possible for children," he said.

Though a national compensation scheme may eventually be established by the Royal Commission, Sullivan said it could take "many years... and may face significant constitutional hurdles".

"This is why the Church is going ahead with developing its own reform proposals, which could be put in place as soon as late next year and could work alongside any future national scheme."

The royal commission was established by then-prime minister Julia Gillard in response to a series of child sex abuse scandals involving paedophile priests, although she insisted the probe would be much broader than just the Catholic Church.

It is examining allegations against churches, orphanages, community groups and schools, and has so far received more than 4,000 substantial complaints.

 

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