World

More clerical sex abuse dismays Pope

Germany's sex abuse scandal has now reached Pope Benedict XVI: His former archdiocese disclosed that while he was archbishop a suspected pedophile priest was transferred to a job where he later abused children.

German church leaders met with pontiff on new prevention measures

Germany's top bishop briefed the Pope on the spiralling cases of clerical sex abuse in the pontiff's native Germany on Friday, and said Benedict encouraged him to pursue the truth and assist the victims.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said Friday the Pope was "greatly dismayed" and "deeply moved" as he was being briefed on the scandal during his 45-minute private audience in the Vatican.

Zollitsch said he briefed the Pope in particular on the measures being taken to confront the scandal.

"The Holy Father was very satisfied with our decisions," Zollitsch told a news conference after the meeting.

At least 170 former students from Catholic schools in Germany have come forward recently with claims of physical and sexual abuse, including at an all-boys choir once led by the Pope's brother.

Abuse suspect returned to work 

Pope Benedict XVI's former German diocese said Friday it made a mistake when the pontiff was archbishop in allowing a priest suspected to have abused a child to return to pastoral work. However, it said Benedict wasn't involved in the decision.

The details came hours after Germany's top bishop briefed Pope Benedict XVI on the spiralling cases of clerical sex abuse in the pontiff's native Germany and said the pope encouraged him to pursue the truth and assist the victims.

 In Germany, the Munich archdiocese said the chaplain was sent to Munich in 1980 for therapy. The diocese says it was made aware of the "serious errors" by the Munich-based daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung which first reported on the case for its Saturday edition.

The man, identified only as H., was allowed to stay in a vicarage while undergoing therapy — a decision in which then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger was involved, the statement said.

It said officials believe it was known the therapy was related to suspected "sexual relations with boys."

However, it says a lower-ranking official — Vicar General Gerhard Gruber — then allowed him to help in pastoral work in Munich, a decision for which he takes "full responsibility."

The Vatican press office noted in a brief statement Friday evening that Gruber was assuming "full responsibility" for the transfer of the priest, after therapy, to pastoral duties. Without further comment, the statement included a link to the Munich archdiocese's statement in German.

The archdiocese says there were no accusations against the chaplain relating to his February 1980 to August 1982 spell in Munich. He then moved to nearby Grafing, but was suspended in early 1985 following accusations of sexual abuse — which the archdiocese didn't detail. The following year, he was convicted of sexually abusing minors.

The conviction resulted in an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 4,000 marks, the archdiocese said.

Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to early 1982.

— Associated Press

More allegations emerge

Zollitsch also said he briefed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on measures implemented in Germany, and that the Vatican is considering a set of universal norms to deal with cases of clerical sex abuse.

"I'm grateful for the encouragement he [Benedict] gave me to continue carrying out our measures in a decisive and courageous way," he said.

The Pope hasn't commented on the German scandal himself. But he decried the sexual abuse of children as a "heinous crime" after he summoned Irish bishops to Rome last month to discuss the even more widespread scandal in the Irish church.

In addition to the cases in Germany and Ireland, three retired priests at a Catholic school in Austria were relieved of their clerical duties this week after allegations of physical and sexual abuse emerged.

Two other priests in Austria have resigned amid similar allegations. In the Netherlands, Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.

But of all the European scandals, the German abuse allegations are particularly sensitive because Germany is the Pope's homeland, where he served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, and because the scandals involve the prestigious choir that was led by his brother, Georg Ratzinger, from 1964 until 1994.

Church hasn't done enough to explain allegations: poll

Zollitsch said he and Benedict did not discuss the allegations surrounding the pontiff's brother. Ratzinger has repeatedly said the sexual abuse allegations date from before his tenure as choir director and that he never heard of them, although he acknowledged slapping pupils as punishment.

According to a poll conducted by the Emnid institute for N24 television, a full 86 per cent of Germans contend the Roman Catholic Church has failed to do enough to explain the allegations of abuse in church-run schools and institutions. Only 10 per cent of the 1,000 people polled on March 10 felt the church was doing enough.

Also, 68 per cent of those polled say the abuse scandal has raised their criticism of the church's educational abilities, while 28 per cent still trust the church to teach their children.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann, who has been appointed by the church to handle abuse allegations in Germany, said that he would also follow up on any charges against bishops.

"Bishops or parishes that are not co-operative will be asked for information," Ackermann said Thursday on ZDF television.

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