Germany's Catholic Church says it is "dismayed and ashamed" by decades of child sex abuse by its priests, after a report was leaked showing that thousands of minors were assaulted.
The study, commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference, was due to be presented officially on September 25, but local media published key conclusions, including the damning finding that more than 3,600 children were sexually assaulted by priests over nearly seven decades.
Authors of the study also warned that the true scale of the abuse may be greater as documents were destroyed or manipulated.
Speaking on behalf of the conference, Bishop Stephan Ackermann said: "We know the extent of the sexual abuse that has been demonstrated by the study. We are dismayed and ashamed by it."
He said the aim of the study is to shed light on "this dark side of our Church, for the sake of those affected, but also for us ourselves to see the errors and to do everything to prevent them from being repeated".
"I stress that the study is a measure that we owe not only to the Church but first and foremost, to those affected."
The report deals another blow to the Church after clerical child abuse has been uncovered worldwide.
According to the study, 1,670 clergymen in Germany committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014, Spiegel Online reported. Most of the victims were boys.
More than half were 13 years old or younger at the time of the abuse, the study concluded after examining 38,000 documents from 27 German dioceses. (AFP)