Vatican responds to Pennsylvania priest abuse scandal with 'shame and sorrow'

The Vatican responded Thursday to the report of hundreds of Pennsylvania priests abusing children, saying in a statement: "There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow."

"The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible," the statement read. "Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith."

More than 1,000 children were allegedly abused by more than 300 "predator priests" and church officials were accused of covering up the allegations, a grand jury's report released Tuesday said.

"The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur," the Vatican said.

Pope Francis himself wasn't quoted in the statement, and there was no mention of demands in the United States among some Catholics for the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. Tuesday's report accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

Over the course of a two year investigation, launched by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office, a grand jury heard several witness statements and reviewed documents from six dioceses in the state.

Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.

The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests who Shapiro said produced and shared child pornography on church grounds.

In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

STUNNING FINDINGS ON REPORT OF CATHOLIC CHURCH ABUSE: PA. PRIESTS MOLESTED MORE THAN 1,000 CHILDREN

"The cover-up was sophisticated. And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up," Shapiro said at a Tuesday news conference. "These documents, from the dioceses' own 'Secret Archives,' formed the backbone of this investigation."

It's possible that the "real number" of abused children could be "in the thousands" due to missing records or other victims who feared speaking about the allegations, according to the grand jury's report.

The report is taken "with great seriousness," the Vatican said Thursday, adding that they "unequivocally" condemn "the sexual abuse of minors."

"Victims should know that the Pope is on their side," the statement continued.

"The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society."

Fox News' Frank Miles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.