“Don’t compromise the bishop” was the motto of Catholic officials in a diocese where pedophilia claims were never acted upon.

A culture of protecting the church existed in a diocese where a Catholic teacher raped and molested 13 girls, an inquiry has heard.

Teachers were repeatedly told not to compromise the bishop, but the culture of protection wasn’t sinister, a former principal told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Brisbane on Friday.

Two Catholic Education Office staff and the principal of a Toowoomba school learned of abuse claims against a teacher in 2007, but failed to act.

That teacher, Gerard Byrnes, was eventually jailed in 2010 after pleading guilty to 44 child sex charges involving 13 young girls.

Byrnes was allowed to continue working at the school after the first complaints surfaced, and went on to abuse other pupils.

Dan McMahon, who was principal of another Toowoomba Catholic school at the time, says there was a culture of protecting the bishop.

“The phrase `not compromise the bishop’ was used, I believe, regularly, not just about student protection. It was a justification for diocesan processes,” he told the hearing.

“Those messages were repeated to us fairly regularly and strongly.

“It was not sinister.”

Jane Needham SC, for the Catholic Church, then asked Mr McMahon how he would have dealt with an allegation of a teacher putting their “hand in or down the pants” of a student.

“Would you need to ring the CEO for advice on that, or go straight to the police,” she asked.

Mr McMahon, who is still a Catholic teacher, said that there were questions about the definition of hands down or in a child’s pants.

“Is the hand over the genitals in the pants or is the hand just above the hem of the pants,” Mr McMahon asked.

“You know, in a child’s pants might be just under the hem. That’s not the same thing as down a child’s pants.”

Byrnes resigned as a full time teacher in June 2008, but was rehired as a relief teacher one month later.

The school’s then principal Terry Hayes told the commission earlier this week he had no part in rehiring Brynes.

But assistant director of the Catholic Education Office Margaret Hendriks told the inquiry that was not true.

She said Mr Hayes had asked her in person if Byrnes could be rehired.

“He said, `is it okay if Mr Byrnes goes on the relief teaching list?’,” Ms Hendriks said.

The hearing continues on Monday.