The Catholic Church in Poland has admitted that more than 380 children have been sexually abused by clergy members since 1990.
During a Warsaw press conference Church leaders revealed that 382 priests had sexually abused children, with cases starting in 1990 to the middle of 2018.
Activists say that the real figure is likely much higher.
The news follows investigations into the widespread sexual abuse of minors by pedophile priests across the world, that have shaken the Roman Catholic Church to its foundations.
The Mail Online reports: Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, expressed ‘pain, shame and the sense of guilt that such situations happened.’
The shocking figures include 198 priests who abused minors under 15 years old and 184 priests who abused those aged between 15 and 18, according to Wojciech Sadlon, the head of the church’s Institute of Statistics.
The figures were released following a three-day session of Poland’s Episcopate in Warsaw that discussed abuse and ways of protecting children.
‘This is an especially painful, tragic issue as it is connected with consecrated people, who devoted themselve to serving the church, other human beings. They have social trust and this social trust was so tragically violated,’ Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski said at a news conference.
Polish bishops last year asked victims of past clerical abuse for forgiveness and began collecting data to ‘identify the causes of these deeds and assess their scale’.
Last month the Polish charity ‘Have no fear’, which supports abuse victims, delivered its own report to Pope Francis in which it calculated – purely on the basis of media reports collated since the mid-1950s – that at least 384 minors had been sexually abused by clergy in Poland.
Activists say the real figure is probably much greater.
The charity has called for the creation of a panel to investigate the real scale of the problem, securing access to Church documents regarding the abuse of minors, and dismissing bishops found responsible for covering up sexual crimes.
In Poland, Catholic priests enjoy high social prestige and victims of sexual abuse by clergy are often suspected by devout Poles of making up false accusations, even long after the offender in question has been jailed.
Poland remains one of Europe’s most devout countries. Nearly 85 percent of Poland’s 38 million-strong population identify as Roman Catholics and around 12 million attend mass every Sunday.
But Polish Church authorities have yet to reach a consensus on how to address the issue of sexual abuse.