MELBOURNE - Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart has issued an unreserved apology to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in a pastoral letter to be read out in every Mass in Melbourne this weekend.
Archbishop Hart says in the letter that the sexual outrages and breaches of vows committed by some priests brought shame upon the entire church.
"How can we Catholics not be shocked and shamed?" Archbishop Hart asks.
He says that in the past 14 years about 300 people have been compensated as victims of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese.
He says most of the attacks occurred decades ago.
"We have sought to do everything in our power to bring these victims aid, consolation and, if possible, reconciliation with the church," he says.
"They have been given access to compensation, on-going counselling and medical support.
"As Archbishop of Melbourne, I once again express my deep sorrow and offer a sincere and unreserved apology to all victims of sexual abuse, and to their families."
He encouraged victims to report any cases to the police, saying 86 offenders have been identified over an 80-year period - 60 of them were priests within the Melbourne Archdiocese.
He says that since 1996 the church had introduced measures, known as the Melbourne Response, to protect parishioners and children against sexual abuse.
He said there is rigorous screening of all people who aspire to the priesthood and seminarians are required to undertake study of the church's code of conduct for priests.
"We cannot completely set right the wrongs of the past and take away the anguish of victims of abuse and their families," he says.
"Nevertheless I believe the Melbourne Response goes a long way towards addressing compassionately the issue of sexual abuse in the Melbourne Archdiocese."