The latest abuse scandal to hit the Roman Catholic Church suggests that clergy in France may have sexually abused children on an unprecedented scale for 70 years -- an estimated 216,000 children -- until as late as 2016.
The revelations come from an independent inquiry by the Church, which released its findings on Tuesday.
It reports that since the 1950s there have been about 2,900 to 3,200 suspected paedophiles in the French church, and the number of victims may rise to 330,000 people when including abuse by members of the Church who are not clergy.
Most of the victims were boys aged between 10 and 13.
Jean-Marc Sauve, who led the investigation, says the findings are damning and that the Church sometimes knowingly putting children in touch with predators.
"A major point that must be underlined is that until the early 2000s, (there was) deep, total and even cruel indifference for years. The victims are not believed, are not listened to. When they are listened to, they are considered to have perhaps contributed to what they had happened to them."
Olivier Savignac is the head of the victims association "Speak out and Live Again," which contributed to the report. He was himself abused as a child.
“That's one abuser per 70 victims. That's huge. So the hierarchy could not have ignored these figures. They were aware of everything.”
The inquiry says the French church didn't take serious steps to address the issue until 2015 or 2016. The commission started 2018, after Pope Francis demanded clergy wipe out the sexual abuse of minors.
The president the French conference of bishops, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, has asked for forgiveness.
In a statement released by the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow at the findings of the investigation but praised the victims for their courage.