Australia's Catholic leaders have promised action and an end to cover-ups of child sexual abuse but will break the law rather than lift the seal of confession to report the "abhorrent crimes".
The leaders have vowed the Catholic Church's shameful history of priests and others in its ranks sexually abusing children will never be repeated.
But they will not yield to a royal commission's call to break the seal of confession to reveal child sexual abuse, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the peak body for religious orders, Catholic Religious Australia, said it was the one recommendation they could not accept because it was contrary to their faith and against religious liberty.
The seal was inviolable and non-negotiable, ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
"This isn't because we regard ourselves as being above the law or because we don't think the safety of children is supremely important, we do," he told reporters on Friday.
"But we don't accept that safeguarding and the seal are mutually exclusive."
Archbishop Coleridge said the bishops and religious leaders had the utmost respect for the rule of law, but mandatory reporting legislation covering information disclosed in confession was ill-conceived and impracticable.
The leaders accepted or supported 98 per cent of the royal commission's recommendations.
Some involved requesting changes by the church's central governing body the Holy See, with the Pope and his advisers having the ultimate say on reforms impacting the universal church and centuries-old canon law.
Archbishop Coleridge said there was the possibility of some movement by the Holy See on some recommendations, but other changes such as introducing voluntary celibacy for priests were unlikely.
He accepted some abuse survivors would consider the church's response was too little, too late or window-dressing.
He said the bishops and leaders of religious orders had pledged "never again".
"There will be no cover-up. There will be no transferring of people accused of abuse. There will be no placing the reputation of the church above the safety of children."
CRA president Sister Monica Cavanagh said the five-year royal commission exposed the abhorrent crimes of hundreds of priests, religious brothers, sisters and lay people along with cover-ups, obstinate behaviour, stonewalling and an unresponsive or even obstructionist church.
"We know that sorrow and contrition are not enough. Visible actions are now required."
Sr Monica said the church had started to change a number of practices including in the screening and formation of people training to be priests or religious sisters or brothers.
Concerned Catholics of the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocese said the leaders' response was an encouraging, if belated, move towards much-needed reforms to church governance, accountability and transparency.
"We should not let the bishops' refusal to consider doing away with the seal of confession to overshadow the significance of the many steps the bishops say they will now consider, steps that if implemented would benefit the church and the faithful," its chair Professor John Warhurst said.
Australian Associated Press
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