Complaints against Catholic priests and clerics shot up five fold after a church watchdog urged the hierarchy to come clean about all allegations.
The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) said it was preparing to report 53 cases of accusations when it sent two letters and an email to the 26 dioceses and all religious orders.
Inspectors revealed the final figure was in fact 272 allegations against priests, nuns and brothers.
Ian Elliot, chief executive of the Board, declined to identify particular problem dioceses or religious orders.
"We were genuinely surprised, very disturbed and concerned and disappointed. All of those emotions. We were frustrated that it had not been shared with us," he said.
Despite diocesan chiefs and members of religious orders defying child protection rules by failing to alert the NBSCCC about all complaints, the watchdog said it would only demand resignations or enforcement if zero progress had been made.
"It's about evolution rather than revolution," Mr Elliot said.
"For anyone who wants to continue the culture of secrecy in the Catholic Church - that is no way forward. There has to be a recognition that there are some fundamental principles that must not be compromised."
It is understood the vast majority of the 272 complaints were historic and a very low number related to allegations in the last year.
These included physical, emotional or sexual attacks and were up on the 197 reported for the previous year