The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said the figures were "horrific” - though campaigners said the number of victims could be as high as 10,000.
The church has revealed to a parliamentary inquiry that its complaints department has upheld 618 complaints of abuse in the past sixteen years. The inquiry was announced after it emerged that 40 victims in the state had committed suicide.
Though only 13 of the cases occurred since 1990, the church admitted it was “ashamed” at its slow response to complaints dating back decades.
“We were very slow to take victims seriously, to listen to what they said and what had happened to them, to believe their accounts,” said the church’s spokesman, Father Shane Mackinlay.
“Our submission faces the truth of those sort of numbers and the horrific extent and the horrific consequences for each of the victims represented by the numbers... Where there were absolutely dramatic and appalling rates of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s, that's dropped off extraordinarily.”
However, experts said the number of the church’s victims could number in the thousands because only a small fraction of those sexually abused are believed to report the crime.