France: At least 330,000 children abused in Catholic Church in last 70 years - report

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Conference of Bishops of France, said he was "appalled" by the report.(Photo: KTO)

A damning report says at least 330,000 children were abused while in the care of France's Catholic Church in the last 70 years.

The horrific findings were uncovered by an independent inquiry which accused the Catholic Church of concealing the abuse in a "veil of silence".

The devastating scale of the abuse is laid bare in a landmark 2,500-page report released on Tuesday, the culmination of a two-year investigation by an independent commission. 

The report said the abuse was perpetrated by around 3,000 "criminal paedophiles", the majority of them clergy and the others holding positions within the Church and its associated institutions.

The probe was being carried out as defrocked priest Bernard Preynat was sent to prison last year for sexually abusing 75 boys over two decades.

The report calls for compensation to be paid to victims and urges Church leaders to take urgent action to address its "faults".

Pope Francis has spoken of his "pain" at the "appalling" findings and said he is praying for the "miracle of healing" for victims.

"His thoughts turn primarily to the victims, with immense sorrow for their injuries and gratitude for their courage to speak out," a Vatican statement said.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference in France has expressed its "shame and horror" at the report, and is asking for forgiveness.

It also asks that parishes read and discuss the report. 

"This is our moral duty for the victims and their loved ones and also for the generations to come: to look at this terrible reality in order to be able to face it together and to work for a Church more worthy of humanity and of Christ that it announces," the bishops said. 

Conference president Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said on Tuesday that the findings were "unbearable".

He said: "This report is tough, it is severe. We have heard the voices of the victims, we have heard their numbers, they are beyond what we could imagine.

"It is truly unbearable. I express my shame, my dread, my determination to act. You, the victims, some of whom I know by name, I want to tell you that my desire on this day is to ask for your forgiveness."

In 2019, Pope Francis took action to address abuse scandals rocking the global Catholic Church with the launch of a new policyVos estis lux mundi, or "You are the light of the world", which says that every cleric, diocese and religious order has an obligation to report abuse.