At least 196 clerics sexually abused children over several years in one German Catholic diocese, according to a new independent report.
The study found that there was a “massive leadership failure” during the tenures of the Münster diocese’s bishops between 1947 and 2008.
It found that there were at least 610 victims of abuse in the church between 1945 and 2020, but the true number could be as high as 6,000.
Around 5% of the 196 clerics were “serial” abusers, responsible for more than 10 acts each, the report stated.
The research was commissioned by the diocese in western Germany and carried out over two-and-a-half years by the University of Münster.
It found that members of the church diocese had covered up abuse scandals or "only intervened superficially".
“The bishops and other officials in the diocesan leadership were in some cases extensively in the know” about the abuse, said co-author Thomas Grossbölting.
Another co-author, Klaus Grosse Kracht, has described the findings as a "frightening assessment".
Most of the priests suspected of abuse in Münster were merely moved to a new position rather than having their pastoral duties curtailed, the study found.
The 196 allegedly abusive clerics account for about 4% of all priests in the diocese between 1945 and 2020.
Münster Bishop Felix Genn has apologised to victims of abuse and cover-ups by church officials and vowed “further consequences”.
In 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger, and nearly a third served as altar boys.
The study in Münster is one of several that have since delved into decades of abuse in individual dioceses, adding to pressure for church reform.
In January, a report commissioned by the Munich archdiocese faulted the handling of abuse cases there by a string of church officials past and present — including retired Pope Benedict XVI.
On Monday, the diocese of Essen also said that a priest who had been convicted of abusing dozens of children in the 1970s and 1980s has been removed from the clergy.