The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry heard safeguarding measures put in place by the Christian Brothers at St Ninian’s school in Fife fell “well short” of what would be expected today.
Last year two former teachers were jailed for a total of 15 years after being convicted of the physical and sexual abuse of boys in their care.
Appearing before the inquiry in Edinburgh on behalf of the Christian Brothers, Michael Madigan said the congregation acknowledged with “deepest regret” that children had been abused.
Mr Madigan said priests had been allowed unaccompanied access to boys despite a warning in the “Chastity” section of a 1946 report which discouraged Brothers from spending time alone with children.
He said dormitories at the school were often supervised during the night by just one Brother and said the disappearance of log books for the period 1976-83 – when much of the abuse took place – was “mystifying”.
One priest, now dead, had been removed from the school and later relieved of his vows in the 1960s because he “could not be trusted with children”.
The inquiry, before Lady Smith, heard that 858 boys passed through the school between 1958 and its closure in 1983.
A total of 35 former pupils came forward with allegations against five members of staff ahead of last year’s trial, but only two men were convicted.
Former headmaster John Farrell was jailed for five years and Paul Kelly for 10 years for abusing boys aged between 11 and 15 between 1979 and 1983.
Mr Madigan said the congregation acknowledged there had been “systemic failures” and had not done enough to protect children.
He added: “By today’s standards, certainly, we would have fallen well short of what was deemed desirable.”
Mr Madigan, who was asked by the Christian Brothers to compile a report for the inquiry, said log books detailing physical punishments at St Ninian’s were held in the congregation’s archives in Dublin.
But he said the records were “scant” for the period 1973-76 and non-existent for the period 1976-83.
The inquiry heard a constitution published by the Christian Brothers in 1946 had discouraged priests from spending time alone with children in their care.
Asked why that was the case, Mr Madigan said: “The risk of temptation to molest the pupils. Unfortunately, a lot of experience would have borne that out.”
The inquiry continues.