The Australian Catholic Church has released a report that suggests, for the first time, that the vow of celibacy could be linked to child abuse involving priests.

The Truth, Justice and Healing Council, a supervisory group which has been working closely with the Australian government in a five-year investigation into child abuse by priests, produced the 44-page report.

The report suggests "psycho-sexual development" is required to stop trainee priests from becoming child abusers.

However, Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, blamed abuse of power at the top ranks of the church, rather than the vow of celibacy. He insisted he was not calling for an end to celibacy, rather that greater care was needed to prepare priests for "understanding how you relate passionately, but not in a sexual way".

Sullivan told ABC News Radio that psychosexual training was a way of "understanding how you grow as a sexual being".

"We've got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some."

The findings were dismissed on Friday by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi: "This idea has been aired but there are many cases of abuse by family members who are not celibate."

In July, Pope Francis suggested that around 2% of Catholic clergy worldwide were child abusers.

Whilst serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Pope wrote that celibacy "is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change. For the moment, I am in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons".

Recently, the Pope expressed his view that celibacy is "not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life". He also told reporters in May, that celibacy "is a gift for the church".

However, he also commented that celibacy may not be obligatory for Catholic clergy worldwide in the future. "The door is always open, given that it is not a dogma of faith".