The Catholic Church is facing a new scandal in the Netherlands
Dutch Catholic bishops have ordered an independent inquiry into alleged sexual abuse of children by priests.
The investigation would be launched "as soon as possible" into more than 200 reported cases of abuse, they said.
Earlier, the Vatican defended its response to child sex abuse allegations in a number of European states, saying it had reacted rapidly and decisively.
In the latest revelations, the head of an Austrian monastery confessed to abusing a boy more than 40 years ago.
The Dutch Catholic Church offered its apologies to the victims: "To the victims of abuse in Catholic boarding schools, the religious leaders and bishops offer their deep-felt condolences and apologies," a statement said.
Allegations first centred on a school in the eastern Netherlands, with people saying they were abused by Catholic priests. This prompted dozens more alleged victims from other institutions to come forward in recent days.
It also emerged on Tuesday that the head of a Salzburg monastery, Bruno Becker, had offered his resignation on Monday after confessing to having abused a boy 40 years ago, when he was a monk.
Church authorities accepted his resignation immediately.
The German, Austrian, Irish and US churches have all been damaged by sexual abuse scandals, and suggestions that senior clergy covered up what was happening.
No 'culture of silence'
Earlier on Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said in a statement the sexual abuse scandals were especially deplorable given the educational and moral responsibilities of the Catholic Church, but that the institutions in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands had shown that it wanted to be transparent.
"They have demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved date from many years ago," said Father Federico Lombardi.
"By doing so, they have approached the matter 'on the right foot', because the correct starting point is recognition of what happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the acts committed against them."
He denied the Vatican had tried to erect a "wall of silence" around the scandals surfacing in many countries.
On Monday, the German justice minister said Vatican secrecy rules were complicating investigations of the cases.
Allegations of sexual abuse are being investigated in 18 of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses, where former students from a number of Catholic schools have alleged sexual abuse by teachers.
The worldwide media publicity given to the scandals has proved disconcerting to the Vatican, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.
It is doing its best to limit the moral damage caused to the church by stressing that paedophilia is a problem not limited to Catholic institutions and teachers, but which must be tackled in a broader context within civil society, our correspondent adds.
In Germany, there have also been allegations of abuse at a church choir in the Regensburg Diocese.
These are especially sensitive because the choir was run by the Pope's own elder brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, from 1964-1993 - though the abuse is alleged to have happened before he took charge.
He has denied any knowledge of the sex abuse cases.
But he admitted in an interview that discipline was strict, and that he himself had sometimes slapped pupils in the face.
"Pupils told me on concert trips about what went on. But it didn't dawn on me from their stories that I should do something. I was not aware of the extent of these brutal methods," he told the Passauer Neue Presse.
"At the start, I also slapped people in the face, but I always had a bad conscience," he said, adding he was relieved when corporal punishment was banned in 1980.