Perth's new Catholic Archbishop says the Church's "shameful" history of sexual abuse is to blame for it no longer being "heard or respected" in public debate.
Timothy Costelloe said there was a growing gap between Catholic values and those accepted in society, with the Church "sidelined, attacked and ridiculed" for expressing its views on everything from abortion and marriage to the treatment of asylum seekers.
In an unusual move, Archbishop Costelloe, writing in Catholic newspaper The Record, suggested the Church must shoulder some blame for its loss of community standing.
His comments come amid renewed criticism of the Church's methods for dealing with abuse allegations, which have been aired at Victoria's parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse.
"One of the reasons why our voice is not heard or respected when we seek to proclaim our beliefs is the shameful reality of sexual abuse by clergy, religious and other Church personnel," Archbishop Costelloe said.
"As the new Archbishop of Perth, I would like to express my own horror of these terrible crimes, which have brought so much suffering to so many people. The victims of sexual abuse deserve our compassion, our admiration and our support."
The Archbishop apologised to victims and their families.
"I intend to work closely with my collaborators and advisers to deal fully and compassionately with any instances of abuse and to do all we can to . . . minimise the risk of such things ever happening again," he said.
The president of support group Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Cathy Kezelman, welcomed the comments but said the Church had to change the way it dealt with complaints.
"Any validation is a positive but obviously words don't make amends for a lost childhood," Dr Kezelman said.
"What we really do need to see from the Church is full and open transparency, immediate reporting of any child abuse to civil authorities and prioritisation of the needs of victims. We need to see systemic change in the Catholic Church."
Archbishop Costelloe, who succeeded Barry Hickey this year, weighed into the same-sex marriage debate last month, saying politicians who attempted to change the law to have it recognised were misusing their power.