In the wake of the Prime Minister's decision to call a royal commission into institutionalised child abuse, Cardinal George Pell said he believed many claims involving the church were exaggerated and historic.
"We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated," he said.
"We object to it being described as the only cab on the rank.
"We acknowledge simply with shame the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it."
The leader of Australia's most powerful Roman Catholic diocese said he would cooperate with the nationwide inquiry, but told reporters the church had improved its processes in dealing with abuse allegations.
"I have just been attempting to explain [over] the past 16 to 20 years, we have addressed [the issue], these are adequate procedures," he said.
"Nobody has written to me saying this procedure is inadequate or that procedure is inadequate.
"What we have had is general smears like, with due respect, I suggest you are making that we are generally inefficient, that we're covering up, we're moving people around.
"Where that is done it's against the protocols."
The Melbourne response
But in Victoria, some are still critical of the so-called Melbourne Response, which Cardinal Pell set up to handle complaints in the late 1990s.
Cardinal Pell confirmed again he had accompanied paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to his court hearings several years ago.
But he said he did not realise at the time the impression this would give to victims.
Ridsdale, from the Wimmera region in western Victoria, was jailed in 1993 after admitting he abused more than 20 children.
In 2006, the priest was sentenced to an extra 13 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to further charges.
Melbourne man Stephen Woods was 14 when he was raped by Ridsdale.
Mr Woods listened to Cardinal Pell's comments with interest and told ABC radio's PM program: "He seems to be setting up a narrative that the Catholic Church is now the victim, that they are the ones who are just one of many assaulters in the society.
"Yet I can't think of any other organisation that has had so many, even though there are many clergy, but they have had so many paedophiles.
"And of course, tens of thousands of victims."
Cardinal Pell said the Melbourne Response had been "very well regarded" by many.
But that is not Mr Woods's impression.
"Working for (support group) Broken Rites we've had cause to come across a lot of people who have said that the Melbourne Response, as well as the Towards Healing, are both very failed systems," he said.
"They offer very small amounts of compensation and they are very lawyer-intense and very legalistically concerned.
"So people have very often come out of it just feeling far more assaulted."
Mr Woods believes the Catholic Church is not responding well to news of the royal commission.
"They still don't get it. They just still don't get it because I think they are afraid because so many bishops over the years have been so culpable of so many crimes, particularly cover-ups, that I think they are afraid of what's going to come out," he said.
'No smear campaign'
Chrissie Foster's two daughters were raped by their parish priest when they were in primary school.
"(Cardinal Pell) was saying there was a smear campaign against the church and there's not a smear campaign at all," she said.
"People are merely telling the truth and trying to be heard about their experience with the Catholic Church; the abuse in the first instance and then the treatment from the Catholic Church, and the hierarchy and the processes after that."
Ms Foster was particularly struck by Cardinal Pell's insistence that the seal of confession is "inviolable".
She believes it is one of the big issues for the royal commission to consider.
"I know he was insistent on it not being looked at, but I think there needs to be mandatory reporting within the confessional about child sexual assault," she said.
"This canon law is the law of a foreign state, the Vatican. How can a foreign state law overrule our civil laws in Australia to protect our Australian children?
"My daughter suicided. My other daughter binge drunk and then got hit by a car.
"She received 24 hours care. And all the care Emma had up until she died; the church didn't pay for that."
The Federal Government has released information for those who want to provide information that may be considered by the royal commission, which is likely to begin in early 2013.