The Catholic Church in Australia lags significantly behind other countries in protecting children from sexual abuse, researchers say.
Far from being a leader in child protection, the Australian church has been pushed into acting and needs to do much more work, the study of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church worldwide has found.
The Catholic Church in Australia has lagged significantly behind other comparable countries in developing policies and protocols to safeguard children and vulnerable adults, the researchers from Melbourne's RMIT University say.
"Any suggestion that the Catholic Church in Australia has led the way in child protection is not sustainable in face of the initiatives in other countries nor has there been much accountability or evaluation in Australia," the report says.
It says there would most likely have been minimal movement on the part of the official church if not for the work of the child abuse royal commission, state inquiries, the media and the determination of abuse survivors themselves supported by their families and advocacy groups.
"Much, much more remains to be done," the report by RMIT University's Centre for Global Research says.
It says the Australian church has not implemented preventative measures such as the Catholic churches in Ireland, the UK and the US, including putting in place safeguarding mechanisms in every parish, setting up better monitoring or training mechanisms or establishing special initiatives such as hotlines or helplines.
The five-year analysis of research and public inquiries, released on Wednesday, notes there has been a substantial decline in clerical child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church worldwide since the 1980s.
Offences were still being committed but rarely, authors Professor Des Cahill and Dr Peter Wilkinson said.
But they said this did not apply in developing countries where the veil of secrecy had not been lifted.
"It's been variously described as a problem or crisis or scandal or nightmare or scourge but the sexual and emotional abuse of children within Catholic settings by priests, religious brothers and sisters, is ultimately a tragedy of immense proportions," Prof Cahill said.
The researchers found it is impossible to conclude that mandatory celibacy has directly caused child sexual abuse.
But they found celibacy is the major precipitating risk factor that has led to psychosexually immature identities and sexual deprivation on the part of those priests and religious who have offended against children.