A senior NSW Catholic has told an inquiry how church leaders believed pedophile priests could be "cured" if they received counselling.
Monsignor John Usher on Monday fronted a Sydney court for the special commission of inquiry into how church leaders and police handled child sexual abuse allegations against two Hunter Valley priests, Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher.
Under questioning from counsel assisting the commission Julia Lonergan, Monsignor Usher recalled a steep "learning curve" faced by senior clergy who were grappling with abuse allegations in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"It's important to understand that the church, like many other institutions, really believed that if someone committed these offences it was possible for them to go into therapy and to be cured," Monsignor Usher told the inquiry.
"I'm not saying it was a universally held view but our church is strong on forgiveness and reconciliation and if someone said 'I'm truly sorry, I'm not going to do it again', there was a tendency to believe them."
Monsignor Usher said he and a number of others in the church eventually became convinced that pedophiles were very likely to reoffend.
Their task was then to educate church leaders and advocate for the victims of abuse, he said.
"We were trying to help the bishops to understand that it was not necessarily about protecting the institutions, and certainly not about protecting the offender," he said.
The monsignor has told the inquiry his recollections did not always line up with those of senior priest Brian Lucas, who has already given evidence and is due to return to the witness box on Monday.
Father Lucas revealed in July that he never took notes during confidential meetings with pedophile priests.
"Did you deliberately not prepare any documentation so that there would not be a paper trail?" Ms Lonergan asked Monsignor Usher on Monday.
"No, I did keep notes and records of cases that seemed to be important," the witness replied.
The inquiry continues before Margaret Cunneen SC.