A "catastrophic institutional failure" by the Catholic Church to take action on cases of sexual abuse led to more south-west children being abused, a royal commission has found.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault released a scathing report on Wednesday, which condemned the church’s Ballarat diocese leaders, who were responsible for parishes across the region.
“That harm could have been avoided if the church had acted in the interests of children rather than in its own interests,” the report said.
“It was only when there was a possibility that the sexual abuse of children by a priest would become widely known that any action was taken.
“Invariably, that action was to remove the priest from the community for a short period and then place him in another, more distant parish.
“Restrictions were not placed on priests and supervision was not given.”
The report said “commissioners heard that there was a tendency by clergy in the Diocese to treat complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse dismissively and in favour of the priest who was the subject of the allegation”.
The commission heard about abuse at a number of locations, including Mortlake and Warrnambool.
A south-west woman, who was the victim of sexual abuse, sought help from two Catholic priests back in the early 1970s, but instead of assistance, she was told to recite the rosary as penance.
As she read the commission’s findings the memories of being ignored flooded back.
“I tried very hard to get help,” the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said. “I knew they didn’t want to hear it.”
The woman said growing up as a Catholic, she was led to believe a priest would help her.
“To me they were the highest power I could think of. I trusted them implicitly,” she said.
The woman continued to be abused by a family member for at least 12 months after telling priests.
She still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks.
“Nothing will ever take away the trauma or the pain,” she said.
“There will be a lot of shocked people in Warrnambool.”
But she believes there are more victims who were too scared to come forward.
The woman said it was a travesty priests had ignored victims who reported abuse.