Child sex abuse Catholic Church Australia
Signage and placards left by protesters can be seen outside Phillip Macquarie Tower in Sydney, March 24, 2014. Don Arnold/Getty Images

Seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia engaged in sexual abuse of children between 1950 and 2010, a royal commission into child sex abuse was told Monday. Close to 4,500 children were said to have been victims of sexual abuse within Catholic institutions over the past 35 years.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had been collecting private testimony from more than 2,400 alleged victims over the past four years. It found the number of alleged abusers was particularly high among certain Catholic Institutions, including the Brothers of St John of God, which has seen 40 percent of its members face allegations of child sex abuse.

"These numbers are shocking," Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which assisted the commission’s analysis, said. "They are tragic and they are indefensible. Each entry in this data ... represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for and protected them. This data . . . can only be interpreted for what it is: a massive failure on the part the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers and predators, a misguided determination by leaders at the time to put the interests of the Church ahead of the most vulnerable and, a corruption of the Gospel the Church seeks to profess. As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame."

In total, 4,444 people at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions alleged they were abused as children, although the real number is suspected to be much higher, with many victims declining to come forward. The royal commission was charged with investigating abuse at several institutions across Australia, including schools and sports clubs.

Of those victims that came forward, 60 percent were victims at faith-based organizations, with two-thirds of those reporting abuse in Catholic institutions. Of the 1,880 alleged perpetrators within the Catholic Church, 30 percent were priests.

Child victims were “ignored or worse, punished,” when they reported the abuse, the commission was told by Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the inquiry.

One of the parents of two of the victims gave her verdict of the Catholic Church’s response outside the hearing in Sydney.

"For so long this has been the way they acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate,” Chrissie Foster, the mother of two daughters who were abused, said. "They have shown no mercy, no remorse. Nothing."