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Pope accepts resignation of German bishop in sex probe

Pope Benedict today accepted the resignation of a German bishop who has been accused of sexually abusing children, the latest in a string of Roman Catholic prelates forced to resign over an abuse scandal.

A Vatican statement said the pope agreed Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg in Bavaria should step down. He became the first bishop to quit in the pontiff's native Germany over the abuse scandal that has rocked the Church in several European countries and the United States.

In recent weeks, a Belgian bishop resigned after admitting he had sexually abused a boy and three Irish bishops quit over their handling of sexual abuse cases.

German prosecutors and church officials said yesterday authorities were investigating accusations of sexual abuse by Mixa, who had already offered to resign after being accused of hitting children.

A spokesman for the diocese of Eichstaett said the accusations referred to a time between 1996 and 2000 when Mixa was bishop of Eichstaett, also in Bavaria.

The Augsburg diocese said it had provided information to prosecutors after a meticulous examination of the accusations.

The Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper reported, without naming its sources, that Mixa was accused of abusing a boy while bishop of Eichstaett.

Mixa's lawyer, Gerhard Decker, has denied the accusations against the 69-year old bishop, who also faces allegations of financial misconduct. "My client fully rejects the accusations now made against him, and will do his utmost to work with prosecutors ... to clear up the matter completely," Decker told the newspaper.

Mixa wrote to the pope in April to offer his resignation, after denying for weeks that he had hit children in the 1970s and 1980s before later admitting he had slapped them. Some victims say he hit them with full force in the face.

The accusations revealed yesterday were the first made of sexual abuse. Mixa had previously asked for forgiveness from those he says he may have slighted.

A survey published last month found a quarter of Germany's Catholics were considering leaving the church over the abuse allegations.