The second highest ranking member of the Marist Brothers would have needed specialist legal advice to determine if an adult touching a child on the genitals was a criminal offence in 1985.
Brother Alexis Turton, the vice-provincial of the order at the time, told Wednesday's hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, he would have also needed specialist advice to determine if it was criminal for an adult to make a child touch them on the genitals or to masturbate a child.
He did know what a paedophile was at the time and was aware sexual intercourse between an adult and a child was a criminal offence.
Brother Turton, who became the provincial of the order in 1989 and later served as its first professional standards director, said when he was made vice-provincial in 1983 he was not briefed on any sex offenders within the order.
Brother Turton played a key role in the order's responses to allegations against serial paedophiles Kostka Chute and Gregory Sutton in the 1980s and 1990s.
Chute had previously admitted to offences dating back to 1959 and received a "canonical warning" in the late 1960s.
Sutton had previously admitted to offences involving more than 20 children.
"Were you told about any brothers being involved in child sexual abuse when you took over [as vice-provincial] in 1983?" counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Simeon Beckett, asked.
"No, I don't recall, no," Turton replied.
He told the commission he first became aware Sutton had abused a student in 1989 when ADO, a former student of Sutton's at a north Queensland school, committed suicide.
When the boy's father learnt his son had been abused by Sutton, and it had been a factor in his death, he travelled to Sydney with Brother John Hunt to confront the abuser.
Brother Hunt later told Brother Turton that Sutton had admitted the offending to ADO's father.
Turton then interviewed Sutton who admitted abusing ADO.
Turton conceded, under questioning, he would have understood this was a criminal act, but said he did not contact police out of respect for the wishes of the family.
"They had their objective, they wanted to move on, they did not want to talk to the police. It was a strong request from them. They were fully aware of their rights," he said.
Brother Turton said he asked Sutton if there were other cases, in view of his knowledge about concerns over Sutton's conduct while he was at St Carthage's in Lismore.
"I asked him 'what other conduct is in your life?' I'm not sure if I mentioned St Carthage's specifically. He quite definitely said no," Turton told the hearing.
Sutton, who had already undergone two unsuccessful attempts at counselling in Sydney and Melbourne, was then sent to the Southdown Institute in Canada for counselling about the sexual abuse.
Brother Turton said the previous counselling had been more general.
"The Melbourne therapist said he was 'unable to work with this man. He does not have sufficient self-awareness to be able to proceed through therapy with me'," he said.
Brother Turton told the commission he made the decision to send Sutton to Canada with the intent to make him "a productive member of the community away from working with children".