PARIS: French Catholic clergy sexually abused some 216,000 minors in the seven decades since 1950, a "massive phenomenon" that was covered up for decades by a "veil of silence," an independent commission said on Tuesday, reports AFP.
The commission's two-and-a-half-year investigation was prompted by outrage over a growing number of abuse claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide.
"These figures are more than worrying, they are damning and in no way can remain without a response," commission chief Jean-Marc Sauve told a press conference.
"Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims."
Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops' Conference of France (CEF), which co-requested the report, expressed his "shame and horror" at the findings.
"My wish today is to ask forgiveness from each of you," he told the news conference. Sauve denounced the "systemic character" of efforts to shield clergy from sex abuse claims and urged the Church to pay reparations even though most cases are well beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution.
The Church announced last spring a plan for "financial contributions" to victims to begin next year, and the commission's report included 45 recommendations for halting child abuse by clergy.
The report, at nearly 2,500 pages, found that the "vast majority" of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a variety of social backgrounds.
"The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence," the report said.
Sauve had already told AFP on Sunday that a "minimum estimate" of 2,900 to 3,200 clergy members had sexually abused children in the French Church since 1950.
Yet only a handful of cases prompted disciplinary action under canonical law, let alone criminal prosecution.
The commission began its work after Pope Francis vowed to address abuse by priests in May 2019, ordering people aware of cases to report them to Church officials.