French Catholic clergy sexually abused some 216,000 minors in the seven decades since 1950, a “massive phenomenon” that was covered up for decades by a “veil of silence,” an independent commission said Tuesday. The commission’s two-and-a-half-year investigation was prompted by outrage over a growing number of abuse claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide. When claims against lay members of the Church such as teachers at Catholic schools are included, the number of child abuse victims climbs to 330,000 since 1950. “These figures are more than worrying, they are damning and in no way can remain without a response,” commission chief Jean-Marc Sauve told a press conference. “Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims.” Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), which co-requested the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the findings. “My wish today is to ask forgiveness from each of you,” he told the news conference. Sauve denounced the “systemic character” of efforts to shield clergy from sex abuse claims and urged the Church to pay reparations even though most cases are well beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution. The Church announced last spring a plan for “financial contributions” to victims to begin next year, and the commission’s report included 45 recommendations for halting child abuse by clergy. “We expect clear and concrete responses by the Church,” a collective of six victims’ associations said. The report, at nearly 2,500 pages, found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a variety of social backgrounds. “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said. Sauve and his team of 21 specialists, all unaffiliated with the Church, also interviewed hundreds of people who came forward to tell their stories. “If the veil of silence covering the acts committed has finally been torn away… we owe it to the courage of these victims,” he wrote. The commission also had access to police files and Church archives, citing only two cases of refusals by Church institutions to turn over requested documents. Overall, it found that 2.5 percent of French clergy since 1950 had sexually abused minors, a ratio below the 4.4 to 7 percent uncovered by similar inquiries in other countries.