The Catholic Church put its interests ahead of those of child sexual abuse victims under a former Melbourne archbishop, a royal commission has found.
Frank Little led a culture of secrecy within the Melbourne archdiocese during his 1974-1996 tenure as archbishop and repeatedly failed to act on complaints, the child abuse royal commission found.
"Complaints were dealt with in a way that sought to protect the archdiocese from scandal and liability and prioritised the interests of the church over those of the victims," it said.
Current Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart accepted the report's conclusion.
"The church should be a safe place for children but the events point to it having been unsafe for all those who are victims," he said.
"Where this abuse occurred resulting from the passivity or inactivity of predecessors of mine, I sincerely apologise and accept responsibility."
The commission said a system for responding to child abuse complaints where the exclusive authority for making decisions was vested in one person was deeply flawed.
While only the archbishop had the authority to remove a priest from the ministry, the commission also criticised some of Archbishop Little's advisers, church personnel and Catholic Education Office staff.
Archbishop Hart said he was confident the archdiocese, its schools and parishes had the policies, codes and processes required to ensure a child-safe environment and deal with complaints.
Other commission reports dealing with the Catholic Church in Ballarat and the Maitland-Newcastle region, as well as the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, may be released in coming days.
The commission's final report will be released on December 15 when the five-year inquiry ends.