Some 2,225 people suffered sexual violence in Germany's Protestant Church at the hands of 1,259 suspected perpetrators over the last eight decades, a study found on Thursday, warning that the scandal was probably far deeper.
There have been high-profile cases of abuses across Germany's Christian institutions, though the main focus has been on the Catholic Church where a similar 2018 study found 3,700 possible victims preyed on by 1,670 clerics.
The report, by about a dozen researchers over the last three years at the request and cost of the Protestant Church, said more than half of identified victims were under 14 at the time.
More than a quarter of the abusers were parish priests.
"It's not even the tip of the iceberg," the study's lead author Martin Wazlawik told a news conference, criticising the church for handling cases "highly reactively".
The report said many regional churches could not rule out destruction of files, while numerous of them said they did not have sufficient personnel to review documents.
Victims were anxious that investigations were too late and too slow, the study said, with risks to young people still high.
The head of Germany's 19 million Protestants stepped down last year over accusations she had known of suspected sexual abuse by a former church employee years before.
Reacting to the report, the church's acting head Bishop Kirsten Fehrs said the institution accepted its guilt.
"I have been genuinely shocked by the abysmal violence that was inflicted on so many people," she said in a statement, saying the abuse even extended to daycare centres.
"I can only ask you, who were hurt so much, for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart ... We did not protect them at the time of the crime and we did not treat them with dignity when they had the courage to come forward."
Victims' spokesperson Detlev Zander, who said he underwent a decade of abuse as a boy, was unimpressed, saying the church was still protecting perpetrators, discrediting those abused, and avoiding appropriate compensation.