The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney has said the Australian Church authorities' response to clerical child sexual abuse amounted to criminal negligence in some cases.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher told the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Abuse that Church leaders in particular have to do what they can to bring about redress and healing and to ensure the Church is a safer place.

The Royal Commission, which has been sitting for four years, calculates that between 1980 and 2015 almost 1,900 Catholic Church personnel faced allegations of abuse. 

Over one quarter of these were priests.

Archbishop Fisher was questioned by Commission counsel about the Archbishop of Perth's use of the term "hopelessly inadequate" to describe the response of some Church authorities to the scandal.

Dr Fisher responded: "I think you might want to use stronger words in some cases, that it was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face.

"In other cases, I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights. They just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."

Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart told the Commission he agreed the church's response was totally wrong.

Archbishop Fisher said certain individuals should be held to account for terrible deeds or for terrible failures to respond once they knew of things happening.

He said church leaders have to do what they can to bring about redress and healing and to make sure the Church of the future is a safer place.