The Roman Catholic Church in Australia has often given too much sympathy to pedophile priests and has not taken abuse allegations seriously enough, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart admitted before a child abuse royal commission on Tuesday.
"I would see that people sometimes have a greater deal of sympathy for a church person than they should have, and they didn't sufficiently identify the crime that that person had committed for what it was," Hart told the commission, according to The Guardian.
"I think these times have made us see quite clearly both in what we think and know but also in our action what we must do."
Hart, who has served as archbishop since 2001, also admitted that many of the apologies that had been sent to victims of pedophile priests were "identical form letters" and that only the names were changed.
"They are very, very similar at least. Some of them may be identical," he said, noting that he did not know the confidential details of each case behind the letters he signed from 2001 to 2013.
"It was never indicated to me that this was unhelpful. Had it been, I would have certainly acted sooner," he added.
The apology letters were part of the church's Melbourne Response, established in 1996 to handle allegations of sex abuse in the archdiocese. Australia, like a number of countries around the world with significant Roman Catholic Church presence, has faced numerous cases regarding clergy sex abuse in recent decades.
"I would have to admit that with what we have been doing now shows that there was too much of a tendency to minimize the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally," Hart continued.
The archbishop explained that the church is now conducting careful assessments of whether candidates are mentally and psychologically fit to join the priesthood.
"When young people go to a parish to work as students, there's always a review group, including women, who look at how they interact with people," Hart said.
Pope Francis met with priest sex abuse victims for the first time in July, asking them for forgiveness and condemning what he called a "sacrilegious cult" of abusers.
"This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God," the Vatican leader stated.
"And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God's love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left lifelong scars."