Pope meets German bishop over sex scandal

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The Independent Online

The Pope held talks with Germany's leading bishop today amid a spiralling abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church in his homeland.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has apologised to German victims and promised to co-operate with prosecutors.

He met Benedict XVI in a previously scheduled audience at the Vatican and is expected to speak at a press conference later.

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 condemned 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. Two other priests in Austria have resigned amid similar allegations.

In Holland, Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools, and apologised to victims.

But 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.

Mr 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, 86% 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% of the 1,000 people polled felt the church was doing enough.

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

"Bishops or parishes that are not co-operative will be asked for information," he said.