Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he was surprised by the lack of understanding in Rome that the roots of the church abuse crisis were buried within its religious culture.
He added the church was too slow to open up to victims and survivors, or understand the role they could play in addressing abuse.
The senior cleric was speaking at the National Child Safeguarding Conference in Kilkenny yesterday when he warned against complacency or "slippage into false confidence".
He said more work needs to be done to "bring healing to those who have suffered" and important lessons from the past must be learned.
"The church all too slowly began to open up to them, not just as victims and survivors, but also with the realisation without their participation and protagonism we would never understand and address the challenge," he said.
"Things have moved on, progress has been made.
"This is not to be complacent, but rather to find the courage and confidence to continue to do those things we know need to be done to bring healing to those who have suffered.
"It is worrying that today problems regarding data protection are giving rise to new difficulties about sharing information.
"There should be no need to have to relearn an important lesson: proper sharing information is vital."
When he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin 14 years ago he said he was surprised by a lack of awareness of church abuses by the religious hierarchy of the time.
As well as sexual abuse, the Archbishop said abuses of "power" and "conscience" had contributed to scandals that alienated the church from younger people.
He added these scandals have also had an impact on morale in the clergy, saying they resulted in priests being subjected to "unfair generalised criticism".
"We have also seen a courageous response from many priests who have embraced child safeguarding norms with determination, bringing entire communities with them. They deserve our recognition, support and affection."