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An estimated 330,000 children have been sexually abused in France Catholic Churches in the past 70 years, according to a report released Tuesday, which represents the country’s first major accounting of the worldwide phenomenon.

The figure includes abuses committed by some 3,000 pastors and others involved in the church – according to Jean-Marc Sauve, the commission’s chairman that released the report, which Catholic authorities covered up “systematically” for decades.

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Reportedly, the head of the French bishops’ conference apologized to the victims, about 80% of whom were boys. The bishops are meeting on Tuesday to discuss next steps.

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The independent commission urged the Church to take strong action, condemning the “blame” and “silence”. It also called on the Catholic Church to help compensate victims, especially in cases that are too old to be prosecuted through the courts.

“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.”

“We believe the church has a debt to the victims,” ​​he said.

The 2,500-page document was issued as the Catholic Church in France, like other countries, seeks to confront shameful secrets that had long been covered up.

The victims welcomed the long pending report.

François Devaux, head of the victims’ group La Parole Libre (The Liberated Word), said it was “a turning point in our history.”

He denounced coverups that allowed “decades of mass crime”.

“But even worse, there was betrayal: betrayal of faith, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence,” he said, calling on the church for compensation.

Olivier Savignac, head of the victims’ union Parlor et Reviver (Speak Out and Live Again), contributed to the investigation. He told the Associated Press that the high proportion of abuse victims per se was particularly “terrible for French society, for the Catholic Church.”

Savignac criticized the Church for treating such cases as individual anomalies rather than collective terror. He described being abused at the age of 13 by the director of a Catholic holiday camp in the south of France, who was accused of assaulting several other boys.

“I regarded this priest as someone who was good, a caring person who would not harm me,” Savignac said. “But when I found myself half naked on that bed and he was touching me I realized something was wrong… and we keep at it, it’s like a growing chest. It’s the victim’s body and the victim’s body.” It’s like gangrene inside the body of the psyche.”

Pujari was eventually found guilty of child sex abuse and sentenced in 2018 to two years in prison, with one year suspended.

The commission worked for 2 years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and news archives from the 1950s onwards. A hotline launched at the start of the review 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”.

The report said an estimated 3,000 child abusers – two-thirds of whom were priests – worked in the church during the seven-decade period. Sauve said the figure is likely to be lower. He said the number of victims included an estimated 216,000 people who were tortured by priests and other clerics.

The estimates are based on the sexual abuse of children in the French population, led by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

“Sometimes church officials don’t condemn[sexual abuse]and even put children at risk for exposure to predators,” Sauve said. “We believe … the church has a debt to the victims.”

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Episcopal Conference, said the bishops were “shocked” at the conclusion of the report.

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

Sauve said the 22 alleged offenses that could 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. These included training priests and other clerics, revising canon law – the legal code used by the Vatican 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 more than 75 boys for decades.

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.”

Pope Francis issued a New Church Law Coercive All Catholic priests and nuns around the world are required to report sexual abuse of pastors 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.