The Church of Latter-day Saints knew its Sunday School teacher Raphael Caccioppoli had a history of sexual offending against boys but didn't tell police because it did not think it legally had to.
Neither did the Mormon hierarchy tell the parents of the children he was left to supervise on his own.
Instead, it excommunicated the Justice Ministry judicial officer following a church court hearing in June last year.
Police become aware of his offending only after a tip-off from one of his associates in September.
Caccioppoli, 36, admitted 13 charges when he appeared in the Invercargill District Court on Friday, including five of committing indecent acts on a boy under 12 and a further three on two other victims aged between 12 and 16.
He was also convicted of one charge of sexual violation, one of indecent assault and two charges of assault.
He also admitted an indecent act with a bull mastiff dog.
The offending took place between 1990, when Caccioppoli was about 19, and September last year.
A source close to the Latter-day Saints told the Sunday Star-Times Caccioppoli had told church social agencies and leaders about his offending and was told to "try harder".
The source said Caccioppoli worked with young children at the Sunday School unsupervised and often organised activities.
"He thought nothing of driving them on their own somewhere."
The Invercargill branch of the church was warned about Caccioppoli by its northern social services agency.
He was called in and, following discussions with a church leader from Dunedin, Caccioppoli himself asked for the church court hearing.
"He didn't expect to be excommunicated. He was so used to bullying his way through things - people would be pleased to wash their hands of him."
The highest church authority was aware of the situation and asked the church court directly whether there was a legal responsibility to report Caccioppoli's offending to police.
It decided there wasn't.
The source described Caccioppoli as a "very good chameleon", who was self- centred and prone to throwing tantrums and unable to control his anger.
"He can get into a black rage within minutes."
The source said many church members had been defending him following his arrest last month.
But it's understood one family, who had been members of the church for almost 40 years, has quit the Latter-day Saints in disgust because of its failure to act and protect other children.
A church spokeswoman said the church had a zero-tolerance policy on child abusers and confirmed his church membership was cancelled last June.
"The total withdrawal of Church membership, the highest penalty that the Church can impose, is mandatory where sexual abuse occurs.
"Every effort is made to persuade the abuser to take responsibility for his actions, including going to the legal authorities. The fact that a man has gone to his bishop with a confession makes it more likely that a respected Church leader can influence him to do the right thing."
Caccioppoli was remanded in custody and will be sentenced on July 8.