Pope Benedict XVI met Friday with Germany’s top bishop amid the spiraling abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church in his homeland.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has apologized to German victims and promised to cooperate with prosecutors. But he and the Vatican have also insisted that sexual abuse of children isn’t a problem specific to the Catholic Church.
Zollitsch met with the pope Friday morning in a previously scheduled audience at the Vatican. He planned a press conference later in the day.
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.
Benedict 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. And 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 Benedict’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.
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 has admitted to slapping pupils as punishment.
According to a poll conducted by the Emnid institute for N24 television, a full 86 percent of Germans accused the Roman Catholic Church of failing to do enough to explain the allegations of abuse in church-run schools and institutions. Only 10 percent of the 1,000 people polled on March 10 felt the church was doing enough.
Consequently, 68 percent of those polled say the abuse scandal has raised their criticism of the church’s educational abilities, while 28 percent 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 cooperative will be asked for information,” Ackermann said Thursday on ZDF television.
Associated Press reporter Melissa Eddy contributed from Berlin.
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