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Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed “shame” for himself and the Roman Catholic Church for the scale of child sexual abuse within the Church in France and acknowledged its failures to put the needs of victims first.

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The pope spoke during his regular audience at the Vatican about a report released Tuesday that estimated about 330,000 French children were abused by clergy and other church officials dating back to 1950.

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related: Catholic Church sexual abuse: 330,000 child victims in France, says report

“Unfortunately, there are a huge number. I want to express my grief and pain to the victims,” ​​Francis said. “It’s my shame, our shame, my shame for the inability of the Church to keep them at the center of its concerns for so long.”

He called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all necessary action “so that similar dramas are not repeated.”

Pope Francis, with Italian priest Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza (L) and Argentine priest Monsignor Luis Maria Rodrigo Evart, bless attendees during the weekly general audience at Paul-VI Hall in the Vatican on October 6, 2021. (photo by Filippo

The pope also expressed his “closeness and paternal support” to the French clergy in the face of “difficult ordeal” and called on French Catholics “to ensure that the Church remains a safe home for all.”

the report states An estimated 3,000 priests and an unknown number of others associated with the Catholic Church. Victims of sexual abuse provide France with its first account of the global phenomenon. Like other countries, the French Church has faced shameful secrets that had long been covered up.

The chairman of the independent commission that issued the findings, Jean-Marc Sauvé, underlined Tuesday that Catholic authorities had “systematically” covered up abuses spanning 70 years.

Victims have long welcomed the 2,500-page document, and the head of the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference sought their apology.

The report said the 33,000 victims included an estimated 216,000 who were abused by priests and other clerics and the rest by church figures such as Scout leaders and camp counselors. The estimates were based on extensive research on child sexual abuse in the country by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

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

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Tuesday that Pope Francis learned of the report’s findings “with sorrow”.

“His thoughts go first to those of the victims, expressing deep sorrow for their wounds and gratitude for their courage,” Bruni said.

Francis issued an important church law in May 2019 that requires all Catholic priests and nuns to report pastor sexual abuse and cover-ups involving their superiors to church authorities. He said in June that every bishop should take responsibility for the “devastation” of the sexual abuse crisis.

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