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French bishops kneel to ask forgiveness for sexual abuse

French Catholic bishops kicked off their annual conference on Tuesday, set to pour over a shock report last month that detailed massive child abuse of 216,00 minors spanning 70 years.

The 120 bishops from across France are to devote nearly half their week-long meeting to "the fight against violence and sexual aggression directed at minors", according to the published agenda.

Some victims were invited to join the meeting, but many declined, denouncing the decision to make the sexual abuse scandal just one of several topics -- rather than the sole issue on the agenda.

The gathering, which started with a period of silence to honour the victims, takes place in the southern town of Lourdes -- considered by the Catholic church to be a holy site and one of the world's top pilgrimage destinations.

Ahead of the conference, the bishops said they would examine the question of the church's institutional responsibility for the mass abuse, as well as a mechanism to compensate victims.

The meeting was extended by a day to allow more time to study the report.