The Vatican has expressed “shame and sorrow” over the sexual abuse of at least 1,000 children by more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, and has said Pope Francis is “on the side” of survivors.

The grand jury report, nearly 900 pages long, was the result of one of the largest US investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic church. It detailed both the scale of abuse and the extraordinary lengths the church went to conceal and protect the perpetrators.

“Victims should know that the pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

The statement is part of fresh efforts by the Vatican to get on top of a wave of sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups.

The pope was personally damaged by his denunciation in January of abuse survivors in Chile who drew his attention to cover-ups by senior figures in the church. Francis was later forced to apologise and launch an investigation which resulted in the resignation of five bishops.

He will face further pressure on a papal visit to Ireland next weekend, when survivors of sexual abuse will demand he take institutional responsibility for the church’s failures.

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