The head of Wollongong's Catholic community says the diocese will fully co-operate with the royal commission into the sexual abuse of children and has urged victims to come forward.
Bishop Peter Ingham said yesterday the protection of children "is of prime importance, not the protection of any organisation".
He welcomed the royal commission announced this week into institutional responses to allegations of child sex abuse in Australia.
"The diocese will co-operate fully with the royal commission and seek to be truly open to the wisdom it will offer to ensure greater protection for children into the future," the bishop said in a statement to be read at churches across the region this weekend.
"Hopefully, it will shine a light on the progress we have made in recent years, as well as highlight areas in which we can improve our practice," he said.
"As I have done previously, I strongly urge any person with a complaint of mistreatment or abuse to come forward to the appropriate authority."
Bishop Ingham offered an apology to those who had suffered abuse at the hands of anyone representing the Catholic Church, particularly anyone "ministering in the name of the Diocese of Wollongong".
"I share the pain, shame and legitimate anger of the people of the church and the wider community, that such abuse has occurred, and that we as church leaders have been slow to address it with justice and transparency," he said. "Sadly, this pain will be heightened as the commission moves forward. For me personally, and for those priests who strive to live their commitment with integrity, this is one of the saddest times of our priesthood.
"Equally, for you, the church community, it is a shameful period in our history."
Bishop Ingham assured the wider community the Diocese of Wollongong was committed to the protection of young people and "to addressing with sensitivity and determination any concern or allegation brought forward".
"My words of apology and sorrow would be hollow without decisive action," he said.
The diocese now had a "rigorous process" in place for dealing with complaints of abuse.
"We meet all mandatory reporting obligations in relation to the police, the Ombudsman and other child-protection authorities," Bishop Ingham said.
"Where criminal behaviour is involved, complainants are strongly advised to notify the police ... If the victim does not wish to go to the police, the diocese itself reports all the details of the allegations to the police, except the identity of the victim."