Published Online: March 10, 2010

German Bishops to Investigate Abuse Charges

The German Bishops Conference will lead an investigation into all allegations of the sexual and physical abuse of students in Germany, a top prelate announced Wednesday.

That investigation will include examining allegations of sexual abuse at a choir once led by the pope's brother and looking into what, if anything, Pope Benedict XVI himself knew in his previous position as the archbishop of Munich, prelate Karl Juesten told the Associated Press.

Juesten, the liaison between Roman Catholic bishops and the German government, also praised the pope's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, for apologizing to victims on Tuesday for doing nothing decades ago to stop the beating of students.

More than 170 students at Catholic schools across Germany have said they were sexually abused years ago and others have made allegations of severe beatings.

The German abuse allegations are particularly sensitive because Germany is the pope's homeland and because the scandals involve the prestigious Domspatzen boys choir that was led by his brother from 1964 till 1994.

Juesten said it was not known if Pope Benedict, who served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1981, was aware of any of the child abuse cases that took place then at Catholic schools and other institutions.

"We do not know if the pope knew about the abuse cases at the time," Juesten said. "However, we assume that this is not the case."

Marx will be "certainly investigating these questions," he said.

The Domspatzen choir led by his brother reported to the Regensburg Diocese and not to the archbishop of Munich.

Juesten also called Ratzinger's apology to the victims an act of courage.

"It is certainly not easy for such a man to publicly apologize," Juesten said.

Ratzinger, the pope's older brother, says students told him of allegations of physical abuse at an elementary school in Germany decades ago and apologized Tuesday for doing nothing about it.

Ratzinger had first said he was unaware of any abuse, and Juesten said that others should follow the 86-year-old Ratzinger's lead in coming clean.

"The other perpetrators should follow the example set by Mr. Ratzinger and apologize to the victims for the abuse they have committed," he said.

However, the pope's brother has said he was unaware of allegations of sexual abuse at his own Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir — incidents alleged to have occurred before Ratzinger led the choir.

A phone call to Ratzinger's home in Regensburg was answered Wednesday by a housekeeper, who said Ratzinger was not at home.

Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the Regensburger Domspatzen choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s.

Another former choir boy there told daily Bild Zeitung on Tuesday that he and other boys was sexually abused by teachers at the choir's boarding school in the 1950s. Manfred von Hove was quoted as saying he "finally wants to have answers and find out who was responsible for the cover-up at the time."

He said he planned to sue the Regensburg Diocese for compensation.

Von Hove's telephone number is not listed and he could not be reached for comment.

Ratzinger has repeatedly said the sexual abuse allegations date from before his tenure as choir director.

"These things were never discussed," Ratzinger told Tuesday's Passauer Neue Presse German daily. "The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of."

Ratzinger did admit to slapping students in the face as punishment for many years, but said he was happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980. Corporal punishment was standard in German schools until the reform movement of the 1960s implemented a nonviolent approach.

The allegations from one elementary school at Etterzhausen, however, go far beyond the norm. In one case, a student reported that a teacher broke a chair over his back.

The schools at Etterzhausen and Peilenhofen, where severe beatings have been reported, were two feeder schools for Ratzinger's choir, and Ratzinger said Tuesday that boys had told him about being mistreated at Etterzhausen but he did not understand how bad it was and did nothing.

Germany's abuse cases are expected to be brought up Friday at the Vatican when the head of the German bishops conference, Bishop Robert Zollitsch, holds a regular meeting with the pope.

The German government has also announced plans for "round table" meetings involving school, church and other representatives to work on ways of detecting, preventing and dealing with future abuse. The first meeting is set for April 23.

Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich welcomed the plans.

"It's good that representatives of all relevant groups in society are invited," he told the Muenchner Merkur daily.

"I feel shame" about the abuse cases in the Catholic church, he added.

In other developments this week, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg, Austria, admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch 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.

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