Pope Francis has expressed “shame” for himself and the Roman Catholic Church at the scale of child sexual abuse within France.
Speaking during his regular audience at the Vatican, Pope Francis acknowledged failures in putting the needs of victims first.
A report released this week estimated that 216,000 French children were victims of clerical and religious abuse since 1950.
The study also found that 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse when non-religious people involved in the church were taken into account.
“There is, unfortunately, a considerable number,” the Pope said on Wednesday, repeating the word “shame” several times.
“I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered,” he added.
“It is also my shame, our shame, my shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the centre of its concerns.”
Pope Francis also called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all actions necessary “so similar dramas are not repeated”.
The pope said that French Catholics must ensure that the church remains “a safe house for all”.
Tuesday’s report was the first damming account of paedocriminality in the Catholic Church in France.
The president of the independent commission that issued the findings, Jean-Marc Sauvé said that Catholic authorities had covered up the abuse spanning 70 years in a “systematic manner”.
The commission urged the church to take strong action, denouncing its “faults” and “silence” and help compensate victims.
Victims welcomed the 2,500-page document as long overdue, and the head of the French Catholic bishops’ conference asked for their forgiveness.
The Vatican spokesman reacted to the news on Tuesday, saying the Pope was “deeply saddened”.