A staggering 7% of priests in Australia's Catholic Church were accused of sexually abusing children between 1950 and 2010, a lawyer said Monday as officials investigating institutional abuse across Australia revealed for the first time the extent of the crisis. The statistics were released during the opening address of a hearing of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the AP reports. The royal commission—which is Australia's highest form of inquiry—has been investigating since 2013 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.
Commissioners surveyed church authorities and found that between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia, said Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission. The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, which is coordinating the Catholic Church's response to the inquiry, said the data reflected "a massive failure" by the church to protect children. "These numbers are shocking, they are tragic, and they are indefensible," a tearful Sullivan told the commission. "As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame." (Read more Catholic Church stories.)