German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet is meeting Wednesday to establish an expert panel to deal with a recent spate of allegations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church and other institutions.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her speech at the Bundestag, the German parliament, in Berlin on Wednesday. Merkel called the scandal surrounding allegations of sex abuse in the country's Roman Catholic Church a major challenge to society. ((Michael Sohn/Associated Press))

The panel will be headed by the ministries of justice, family and education and is expected to meet for the first time on April 23. The panel will include 40 representatives from the church, the government, charities and educational institutions.

Merkel has said before that the panel should examine past abuses and take a second look at Germany's existing statute of limitations on sex crimes as well as possible compensation for victims of abuse.

Germany has been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal at Roman Catholic and secular schools in recent weeks as more than 250 people have come forward to say they were abused.

On Monday, the Regensburg diocese in eastern Germany said it is investigating four priests and two nuns for allegations that they sexually abused children decades ago.

The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution has expired in all of the cases, as the allegations against five of the six date from before the mid-1970s, and the accusation against the sixth individual goes back to 1984.

In a letter read last Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI apologized to Irish victims of abuse within the Catholic Church. In the seven-page letter the Pope apologized to victims and reprimanded church leaders for failing to respond for allegations of abuse.

With files from CBC News