Catholic church attempted to conceal sexual abuse evidence

The Catholic church believed it had an understanding with the NSW police in 2003 that allowed it to conceal evidence against paedophile priests, a freedom of information (FOI) document reveals.

The file, accessed through FOI laws by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge and obtained by ABC's Lateline, documents the Catholic church's attempt to co-opt NSW police to enter into the illegal agreement.

"Church authorities shall make available the report of an assessment and any other matter relevant to the accused's account of events only if required to do so by court order," the unsigned draft memorandum read.

Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive director Michael McDonald wrote to the NSW child protection squad on 18 June 2003 seeking confirmation the memorandum of understanding (MOU) was still in place.

In response, Kim McKay from the child protection squad advised no agreement ever existed.

"The arrangements proposed by the draft MOU appear to be in direct conflict with the explicit legislative requirement of section 316 of the Crime Act," he wrote on 20 August 2003.

It's unclear how long the church had been acting according the draft MOU.

Michael Salmon, who was the Catholic church's point of contact for police at the time, provided a statement to Lateline confirming the church had operated under the unsigned agreement.

"The church assumed it was operational, we were practising the provisions of the MOU and dealing with the police under those provisions," he said.

"We had an understanding from police it was approved."

Shoebridge said it was unclear how many cases were dealt with by the church under this assumption.

"It's likely that hundreds, if not more than that, cases were processed through this MOU," he told ABC.

"Processed in a way that didn't protect victims, didn't assist the police in prosecuting for crimes, but protected the good name of the church."