Child sexual abuse flourished in the past because Australian culture did not readily listen to children when they made complaints and because the churches did not want to face difficult and shameful things, Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said on Monday.
"We've always had high expectations but not the necessary checks and balances," he told the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled sex abuse.
"Functions would be clustered unhelpfully in one person or office, and it was a small community. People knew each other.
"Children would be disbelieved by parents and the adults around them and sometimes even punished for talking about it. It was an awful thing."
He said the church first developed a formal response to clergy sex abuse in 1994, and it had been constantly improved, most recently with a professional standards act in 2009.
Archbishop Freier spoke of "the chill of fear" he felt when he learned that a teacher at his son's primary school was a sexual predator of other boys in his class.
Claire Sargent, the independent director of professional standards said there had been 46 complaints of sex abuse in the Melbourne diocese in the past 58 years. Some clergy - fewer than 10 - had been removed from holy orders and others denied appointments they sought.
Ms Sargent said the church encouraged victims to report to the police, and she had driven them there herself, but there was a difference between current abuse and historical events where the perpetrator might be dead, or the victim might not know the abuser's name. "It might just be George in 1962," she said.
Archbishop Freier said there had been 10 financial settlements totalling $268,000 since 2003 over child sexual abuse. The diocese had 685 clergy, 295 lay ministers and 65 other employees.
He said he welcomed the public scrutiny if it brought "shameful matters to light", that the church looked forward to the committee's recommendations and would follow them.
"We are very open to the things you might point out. We are not at the end of any journey," he said.
Asked whether the church would support mandatory reporting, Archbishop Freier said: "We would not want to be part of any conspiracy of secrecy, but there are some circumstances where victims don't welcome the intervention of other authorities."
Archbishop Freier said the sex-abuse crisis had severely challenged people's faith, "but there are good people doing good things to assist victims. I do not want us to stop with shame and disappointment as the only things to come out of these hearings."