Updated at 2.30pm

Roman Catholic clerics in Germany sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Wednesday, citing a study commissioned by the German Bishops' Conference.

Der Spiegel said the study, conducted by three German universities, had revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in Germany between 1946 and 2014.

Asked about the report, a spokesman for the Bishops' Conference told Reuters: "We are checking the matter."

The study examined more than 38,000 personnel and reference files from 27 German dioceses and showed that more than half of the victims were aged at most 13 years old at the time of the crime, Spiegel reported.

The German Bishops' Conference commissioned the "strictly confidential" study and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, its chairman, is expected to present its findings later this month, Spiegel said.

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned the heads of national Catholic bishops conferences from around the world to the Vatican in February for a meeting to discuss the protection of minors from sexual abuse, the Vatican said.

A Vatican spokeswoman said the meeting would take place February 21-24.

Pope Francis will meet on Thursday with US Catholic Church leaders who want to discuss the fallout from a scandal involving a former American cardinal and demands from an archbishop that the pontiff step down.

The bombshell allegations made by the Italian archbishop accused the Pope of covering up the sexual misconduct of American cardinal,.

In an 11-page statement published on August 26, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and US Church officials.

The cardinals' statement said they had expressed their "total solidarity with the pope over events of the last few weeks" and added that the Holy See was preparing "eventual and necessary clarifications".

Viganò said he had told Francis soon after the pontiff's election in 2013 that Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington DC, had engaged in sexual misconduct.

Viganò, who is in hiding and communicating through the same conservative journalists who helped him prepare, edit and distribute his broadside, said the pope had done nothing and even lifted sanctions that had been imposed on McCarrick by Benedict, the previous pope.

Francis in July accepted the resignation of McCarrick, 88, who became the first cardinal in living memory to lose his red hat and title.


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