German bishop acknowledges abuse scandal mistakes

Religious leader "should have checked more intensely" into molestation claims from accused priest's congregation

Published July 9, 2010 6:27PM (EDT)

Germany's top Roman Catholic bishop on Friday acknowledged mistakes in dealing with allegations against a priest who is believed to have molested boys over more than two decades.

Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg and head of the German Bishops Conference, said he should have checked more intensely into sexual abuse allegations coming from the priest's congregation in 1992.

The priest, who has not been named, is accused of molesting altar boys and other male youths when he worked in the town of Oberharmersbach from 1968 to 1991. Zollitsch was diocese staff manager at the time and responsible for priest placements.

Zollitsch said he was "shocked about the unfathomable extent of the abuse in Oberharmersbach, which has become apparent only in recent months."

In the written statement released by his diocese, Zollitsch also said that he regrets his diocese erroneously stated in March that it did not hear about abuse allegations before 1995 when he had already started dealing with the case in 1992.

Prosecutors last month opened an investigation of the bishop for assisting child abuse in another case he handled decades ago. The diocese said at the time that suspicion lacked substance, but Zollitsch did not address that case in his Friday statement.

He has met with victims and their families and apologized to them, the statement said.

The Roman Catholic's abuse scandal has rocked Germany, former home of Pope Benedict XVI, since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of people claiming to have been abused have come forward.

In Zollitsch's diocese alone accusations have surfaced against 44 priests in the first six months of the year, the statement said. The cases span the years 1950 through 2000. Some 16 of the priests have died and another 12 have retired, while 4 have been suspended, it said.

Also on Friday, the Vatican cleared two Benedictine leaders who resigned from posts amid a sexual abuse scandal in a boarding school, the Ettal monastery said.

A letter from the Vatican's head of religious orders, Cardinal Franc Rode, said that former Abbot Barnabas Boegle and Prior Maurus Krass hadn't disregarded internal rules on alerting sexual abuse allegations to church authorities, the monastery said in a statement.

Boegle did "everything necessary in the case" and both may seek to regain their jobs, he said.

Both resigned in February after former students of the Ettal monastery boarding school said they were abused by priests in the decades preceding 1990 -- before the leaders' tenure.

In April, an investigation found hundreds of students likely were physically or sexually abused.

By Verena Schmitt-roschmann

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