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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.

The Pope, during his regular audience at the Vatican, spoke about a report released on Tuesday that speculated some 330,000 French children In the 1950s there was abuse by clergy and other church authority figures.


Francis said, “Unfortunately, there are quite a number. I want to express my sadness and pain to the victims, which they went through.” “It is my shame, our shame, my shame, for the inability of the Church to keep them at the center of its concerns for so long.”

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

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 said an estimated 3,000 priests and an undisclosed number of others affiliated with the Catholic Church sexually abused children, giving France its first account of the global phenomenon. Like other countries, the French Church has faced shameful secrets that had long been covered up.

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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 330,000 victims included an estimated 216,000 people who were abused by priests and other clerics, and the rest are 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.

Pope Francis gives his speech during an international prayer meeting for peace "No one is left alone - peace and fraternity" at the Roman Basilica of Aracoli on October 20, 2020 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Vatican Pools/Getty Images)

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.