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Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge departs after giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 8, 2017. AAP Image/Paul Miller/via REUTERS


SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Catholic Church in Australia paid A$276 million (£171 million) in compensation, treatment and other costs to thousands of victims of child sexual offences in the past 35 years, according to a report released on Thursday at an inquiry into institutional abuse.

The barrister prosecuting on behalf of the government-established Royal Commission, Gail Furness, said in the report there was an average delay of 33 years between an alleged abuse and claim made against the church.

"The Royal Commission's experience is that many survivors face barriers which deter them from reporting abuse to authorities and to the institution in which the abuse occurred," Furness said.

A Royal Commission is Australia's most powerful type of inquiry that is able to compel people to testify and recommend legislative changes and criminal charges. The current inquiry was established in 2013 and is investigating child sexual abuse in religious, government and sporting organisations, among others.

Compensation and other payments were made in response to 3,066 of 4,445 child sexual abuse claims between 1980 and 2015, the report found. More than 40 percent of claims were received by a handful of male orders.

The current set of hearings, focussed on the Catholic Church, previously heard that 7 percent of priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sex crimes, but few were pursued.

The report was based on analysis of data kept by Catholic Church authorities. Last year, Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell said the church had made "enormous mistakes" and "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counselling of priests to solve the problem.

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Michael Perry)