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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis delivers a speech after a meeting with Patriarchs of the churches of the Middle East at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, southern Italy July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican, in its first response to a damning report by a U.S. grand jury on sexual abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania, on Thursday expressed "shame and sorrow".

The grand jury on Tuesday released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. [nL1N1V514F]

In a statement, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke also said the

Catholic Church "must learn hard lessons from its past", and that the Vatican vowed to hold abusers and enablers accountable.

The statement stressed the "need to comply" with civil law, including mandatory reporting of abuse against minors and said Pope Francis understands how "these crimes can shake the faith and spirit of believers" and that he wanted to "root out this tragic horror".

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops called for a Vatican-led probe backed by lay investigators into allegations of sexual abuse by former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Steve Scherer)

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Reuters