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Pope Francis voiced his shame and sadness on Wednesday after an investigation found that more than 200,000 children, mostly boys, were sexually abused by clergy in France over 70 years.
Referring directly to the findings during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, the pope said: "There is, unfortunately, a considerable number. I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered.
"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."
The pope learned of the findings of the report after he met French bishops visiting the Vatican.
The independent investigation was commissioned by the French Catholic Church in 2018 following abuse claims.
After two and half years of going through church and police records and speaking to victims and witnesses, it found that there were around 3,000 abusers or more.
It also found that the numbers of children sexually abused could rise by another 130,000 if lay members of the church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, are included.
Jean-Marc Sauvé, the head of the commission responsible for the investigation, accused the church of a cruel indifference for years. He said it was mostly concerned with protecting the institution rather than the young victims.
Speaking after the release of the report, Sauvé said: “There was a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence, an institutional cover-up."
Pope Francis, who has spoken often about sexual abuse of minors by church members, called on all bishops and senior clergy to take all actions to avoid similar dramas from occurring again.
A Vatican statement said that the pope expressed his gratitude to the victims for their courage in coming forward and highlighting the abuse they had suffered.
The statement added that the pope also turned his thoughts to the church in France.
He said he hoped it could take the path towards redemption after recognising such terrible events.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said after the publication of the report that there was a need for truth and compensation.
“Behind the figures and terrible situations that are described, there are broken lives,” he added.