In a shocking development, an investigation into sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church has found that an estimated 216,000 children were victims of abuse by clergy between 1950 and 2020.
The 2,500-page document prepared by an independent commission was published on Tuesday. The commission was set up in 2018 by the French Catholic Church after widespread outrage over string of pedophilia claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide.
The commission highlighted a "cruel indifference" on the part of the French Catholic Church for victims of the "systemic" abuse.
The landmark report was released after two and a half years of research based on church, court and police archives, as well as interviews with witnesses. Made up of 22 legal professionals, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians, the commission's brief was to investigate allegations of child sex abuse by clerics dating back to the 1950s.
The abuse was systemic, said Jean-Marc SauvÃ©, the head of the commission that compiled the report. SauvÃ© added at a public, online presentation of the report that the church had shown "deep, total and even cruel indifference for years", protecting itself rather than the victims.
SauvÃ© said children were more likely to be abused within Catholic Church settings than in state-run schools or in summer camps -- or in any setting other than the family.
Speaking just after SauvÃ© at the presentation of the report, the archbishop of Reims and head of the French conference of bishops, Ãric de Moulins-Beaufort, spoke of shame, asked for forgiveness and promised to act.
The sexual violence was not limited to "a few black sheep that strayed from the flock," SauvÃ© told CNN ahead of the report's publication. "When it was informed of abuses, [the Church] did not take the strict measures necessary to protect children from predators."
He said the commission itself had identified around 2,700 victims, but that a wide-ranging study by research and polling groups had estimated that there had been around 216,000 victims.
The number could go up further to 330,000, when including abuse by lay members.
Disgrace to Humanity
The report, found that the "vast majority" of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds.
SauvÃ© said about 80 percent are male victims.
"The consequences are very serious," SauvÃ© said. "About 60 percent of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life."
"You are a disgrace to our humanity," Francois Devaux, who set up victims' association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the public presentation of the report, before SauvÃ© took the floor.
"In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes ... but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children," Devaux said, also accusing the church of cowardice.