CRA was established by the authority of the Holy See in Rome and is known canonically as the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (ACLRI). ACLRI developed out of three separate conferences of religious priests, sisters and brothers.

These three separate conferences were set up in response to the invitation of the first general congress of the states of perfection (consecrated life) held in Rome in December 1950. This congress invited religious and secular institutes, male and female, from each nation to join in federations, conferences or councils of major superiors.

In 1990, after a trial period of two years, the three Conferences combined to create ACRLI and new Statutes were approved by the Holy See in 1992. In 2006, the ACLRI Council made the decision to change the working name from ACLRI to Catholic Religious Australia.