PHOTO: The leaked report details thousands of cases of sexual abuse. (AP: Markus Schreiber)
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The Catholic Church in Germany has acknowledged a "depressing and shameful" legacy of sexual abuse after a leaked study said clerics had abused thousands of children over a 70-year period.
- Study examined more than 38,000 files from 27 dioceses
- Pope Francis summons presidents of the world's bishops' conferences to a summit
- Pope also to discuss scandal involving a former American cardinal
The document, commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference, revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in the country between 1946 and 2014, news magazine Der Spiegel said.
The report quoted a leaked copy of the study, which was compiled by three German universities.
Bishop of Trier Stephan Ackermann said the church was aware of the extent of abuse demonstrated by the study's results.
"It is depressing and shameful for us," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
The leaked study was published on the day Pope Francis summoned the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences to a summit on preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children, responding to the greatest crisis of his papacy with the realisation that Vatican inaction on the growing scandal now threatens his legacy.
The meeting, scheduled for February 21-24, will assemble more than 100 churchmen to represent every bishops' conference.
Its convening signals awareness at the highest levels of the Catholic Church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem, not restricted to some parts of the world or a few Western countries.
Pope Francis will also meet with US church leaders on Thursday.
He is due to discuss a Grand Jury finding that 301 priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused minors, as well as a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an Italian archbishop, Carlo Maria Vigano, that the pontiff step down over that case.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Bishops' Conference, asked for the meeting after Archbishop Vigano last month accused the Pope of knowing for years about sexual misconduct by former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick and doing nothing about it.
PHOTO: Pope Francis is convening a meeting of the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences. (AP: Gregorio Borgia, pool)
More than half of victims 13 or under
Der Spiegel said the German study, which examined more than 38,000 files from 27 dioceses, showed more than half of the victims were aged 13 years or under when they were abused.
About one in six of cases documented involved rape and three quarters of the victims were abused in a church or through a pastoral relationship with the abuser.
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In many cases, evidence was destroyed or manipulated, it cited the study as saying.
The German Bishops' Conference was expected to present the "strictly confidential" study's findings later this month, Der Spiegel said.
Speaking on behalf of the Conference, Bishop Ackermann said that, while he regretted that the study had been leaked, he was convinced the survey was comprehensive and thorough.
"The study is a course of action which we owe not only to the church, but above all and foremost to those affected," Bishop Ackermann said.
The church had often transferred clerics accused of sexual abuse without providing the new host community with "appropriate information" about them, the study found.
Only one third of those accused had to face proceedings under canon law and sanctions imposed were at most minimal, with 4 per cent of those found to have committed abuse still working.
The study called on the Catholic Church to rethink its refusal to consecrate homosexual men and to view the celibacy obligation imposed on its clergy as "a potential risk factor", Der Spiegel reported.