French Catholic clergy sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the past 70 years, according to an investigation by an independent commission.

The panel’s report, released Tuesday, said the Catholic Church covered up a “massive phenomenon” with decades of a “veil of silence.”

“Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,” the report said.

The commission’s report, released after a two-and-a-half-year investigation, said Catholic clergy in France sexually abused about 216,000 minors since 1950.

Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the commission that compiled the report, said at a Paris news conference that most victims were boys between ages 10 and 13.

The report said the number of child abuse victims increased to 330,000 when including claims against church lay members such as teachers at Catholic schools.

Catholic bishops in France established the commission in 2018 to uncover abuses and restore confidence in the church as congregations declined.

The probe was triggered by an increasing number of abuse claims and prosecutions of church officials worldwide.

Bishops’ Conference of France Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, among those who requested the report, expressed “shame and horror” at the findings during the news conference.

“My wish today is to ask forgiveness from each of you,” he said.

Along with 45 recommendations to stop child abuse by clergy, Sauve urged the church Tuesday to pay reparations to the victims. The church announced a plan last spring to provide “financial contributions” to the victims.

Six victims’ associations said, “We expect clear and concrete responses by the church.”

FILE - French victim of sexual abuse, Francois Devaux, also president of the French association of victims of priests abuse "La Parole Liberee" (Freed Speech), addresses the media outside the entrance of the Paul-VI residence at the Vatican, Feb. 20, 2019.

FILE – French victim of sexual abuse, Francois Devaux, also president of the French association of victims of priests abuse “La Parole Liberee” (Freed Speech), addresses the media outside the entrance of the Paul-VI residence at the Vatican, Feb. 20, 2019.

Abuse victim Francois Devaux, a founder of victims’ association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the report’s unveiling that “You are a disgrace to our humanity.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops act against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults.

Some information in this report was provided by Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press and Reuters.

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