Paris: The head of France’s Catholic Episcopal Conference is apologizing to an estimated 330,000 victims of child sexual abuse by the Church, a significant report has found.

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The report was released on Tuesday with the issue of France doing extensive research in the first major count.

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of France’s episcopal conference, said on Tuesday that “we are shocked” at the report’s findings and the number of victims.

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“Their voices are shaking us, their numbers are haunting us,” he said.

He told the victims, “I want you all to ask for forgiveness that day, sorry.”

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The commission that compiled the report called for compensation for the victims and strict action from the church.

This is a breaking news update. Below is an earlier story from AP.

A major French report released on Tuesday found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse within France’s Catholic Church over the past 70 years, with France’s devastating event in the first major count.

The commission’s chairman, which released the report, Jean-Marc Sauve, said the estimate, based on scientific research, included abuses committed by priests and other clerics as well as non-religious people involved in the church. He said that about 80% of men are victims.

“The consequences are very dire,” Sauve said. “About 60% of men and women who were sexually abused face major problems in their emotional or sex lives.”

The 2,500-page document, prepared by an independent commission, comes as the Catholic Church in France, like other countries, seeks to confront shameful secrets that had long been covered up.

The report said an estimated 3,000 child abusers – two-thirds of whom were priests – worked in the church during that period. Sauve said the total number of victims included an estimated 216,000 people who were abused by priests and other clerics.

Olivier Savignac, head of the victim association “Parlor et rivier” (Speak Out and Live Again), which contributed to the investigation, told the Associated Press that the high proportion of victims per abuse was particularly “for French society, for the Catholic Church.” is dreadful. .”

The commission worked for 2 years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and press archives from the 1950s onwards. A hotline launched at the start of the investigation received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people who said they knew a victim.

Sauve denounced the church’s attitude until the early 2000s as “a deep, brutal indifference to the victims”. He “did not believe or hear” and was sometimes suspected of being “somewhat responsible” for what happened, he expressed regret.

Sauve said 22 alleged offenses that could still be pursued had been referred to prosecutors. More than 40 cases that are too old to stand trial but involve alleged perpetrators who are still alive have been referred to church officials.

The commission issued 45 recommendations on how to prevent abuse. Sauve said these include training priests and other clerics, revising canon law — the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church — and promoting policies to identify and compensate victims.

The report comes in the aftermath of a scandal involving pastor Bernard Prenot that shook the French Catholic Church. Last year, Preenat was convicted of sexually abusing minors and was given a five-year jail term. He admitted to abusing boys over 75 for decades.

One of Prenat’s victims, François Devaux, head of the suffering group La Parole Libere (“The Liberated Word”), told The Associated Press that “with this report, the French Church is going to the root of this systemic problem for the first time. The disturbed institution must reform itself.”

He said the number of victims identified in the report was “minimal”.

“Some of the victims did not dare to speak up or trust the commission,” he said, expressing concern that the church in France still “did not understand” and sought to reduce its responsibilities.

Devoux said the church should not only acknowledge the incidents but also compensate the victims. “It is imperative that the Church redress the damage caused by all these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step.”

The Prenat case led last year to the resignation of the former Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was accused of failing to report abuses to civil authorities when they learned of him in the 2010s. France’s highest court ruled earlier this year that Barbarian did not cover the case.

The French archbishop, in a message to parishioners read during Sunday Mass across the country, said the publication of the report was “a test of the truth and a difficult and grim moment.”

“We will obtain and study these findings to optimize our actions,” the message said. “The fight against pedophilia concerns us all … our support and our prayers will go out to all those who have been abused within the Church.”

Pope Francis issued a new church law in May 2019 requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report pastor sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.

In June, Francis swiftly rejected a proposal by one of Germany’s foremost clerics and a close papal adviser, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, to resign as Archbishop of Munich and Freising over the Church’s mishandling of cases of abuse. was given. But he said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop should take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.

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Masha Macpherson contributed from Paris and Nicolas Vaux-Montagny from Lyon, France.