Over the course of an estimated two weeks, the commission will hear evidence from four victims of abuse by members of the church who sought redress through the Towards Healing process, set up by the church in 1996 to respond to complaints of abuse by members of the clergy.

On Monday morning it was revealed that the Catholic church had paid more than $43m in compensation to victims in a process which it is alleged sought to mitigate public damage to the church rather than address victims' needs.

Senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, said the highest payout since the establishment of Towards Healing was $853,000. The amount, which included legal, counselling and other costs, related to a diocesan priest, at the time appointed with the archdiocese of Sydney.

Furness began her opening address by describing the process that Towards Healing was supposed to follow when a complaint of sexual abuse was received.