Australia's Roman Catholic Church has confirmed that more than 600 children have been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s in the state of Victoria.
The archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, described the figures as "horrific and shameful".
The admission came in a submission to a state parliamentary inquiry into the handling of abuse cases, however campaigners say the true figure could be up to 10,000 victims.
The church said the 620 cases went back 80 years with the majority taking place between the 1960s and the 1980s, with another 45 cases being investigated.
In a statement, Archbishop Hart said it was important to be open "about the horrific abuse that has occurred in Victoria and elsewhere".
"We look to this inquiry to assist the healing of those who have been abused, to examine the broad context of the church's response, especially over the last 16 years, and to make recommendations to enhance the care for victims and preventative measures that are now in place," the statement said.
Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were raped by their parish priest from the mid-1980s, said the church had had decades to address the issue but had only revealed the figure to the Victorian inquiry on Friday.
"It's only been victims coming out and going to the police that has stopped all of this".
"The church has never lifted a finger to stop their paedophile priests," added Foster, who said one of her daughters had ultimately taken her own life.
The Victorian state government announced the inquiry into the handling of child abuse cases by religious and non-government bodies after the suicides of dozens of people abused by clergy.
Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been a major issue in Australia recent years.
During a visit to Australia in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.
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|William A. Cook|