Some 216,000 children have been sexually abused by clergy in the French Catholic Church since 1950, a damning new inquiry has found.
The head of the inquiry said there were at least 2,900-3,200 abusers, and accused the Church of showing a “cruel indifference towards the victims”.
Pope Francis “felt pain” on hearing about the inquiry’s finding, a Vatican statement said.
François Devaux, the founder of the victims’ association La Parole Libérée (Freed speech), said there had been a “betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children”.
The inquiry found the number of children abused in France could rise to 330,000, when taking into account abuses committed by lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools.
According to the Vatican statement, the Pope learnt about the report after he met visiting French bishops in the last few days.
“His first thoughts are for the victims, with a deep sadness for their wounds and gratitude for their courage in coming forward,” it read.
“His thoughts also turn to the Church in France, and that, in recognising these terrible events and united by the suffering of the Lord for his most vulnerable children, it can take the path of redemption.”
The report’s release follows a number of abuse claims and prosecutions against Catholic Church officials worldwide.
The independent inquiry was commissioned by the French Catholic Church in 2018. It spent more than two-and-a-half years combing through court, police and Church records and speaking to victims and witnesses.
Most cases assessed by the inquiry are thought to be too old to prosecute under French law.
The report, which is nearly 2,500 pages long, said the “vast majority” of victims were boys, many of them aged between 10 and 13.
The commission found evidence of as many as 3,200 abusers of a total of 115,000 priests and other clerics and said this was probably an underestimation.