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Pope urged to apologise for abuse cover-up

The pope was today urged to make a public apology for the church's years of covering up sexual abuse.

German Catholics are continuing to struggle with the magnitude of abuse claims against priests; since the first victims came forward in January, at least 300 others have joined them.

Victims in neighbouring Austria and the Netherlands have also made abuse claims, triggering a crisis in the church and accusations the pontiff is avoiding comment on the issue.

"If the pope himself doesn't take a stance, apologise for what Rome has committed over the past decades in terms of cover-up - then our believers will become even more disappointed than they already are," Father Udo Fischer, who heads a parish in the Lower Austrian village of Paudorf, said.

"Jesus would certainly not have kept quiet."

Meanwhile a prominent archbishop called for justice for victims saying they need to feel they can finally speak openly about their suffering.

Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, said Catholic bishops in the southern German state of Bavaria, the pope's homeland, felt "deep consternation and shame" over the reports of abuse of children in church-run schools and institutions revealed in past weeks.

"The priority is the search for the truth and achieving an open atmosphere that will give the victims courage to speak about what happened to them," he said.

Archbishop Marx said the state's bishops had agreed to investigate each claim and would contact authorities as appropriate.

Robert Zollitsch, the head of Germany's Bishops Conference, today insisted that the pope had repeatedly made clear his position on sexual abuse.

"I know from my discussion with the pope how deeply appalled he is by the sexual abuse of children by priests, especially in Germany," he said.

The pope spoke out repeatedly against sexual abuse during his 2008 trip to the United States. He called the crisis then a cause of "deep shame," pledged to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from priests' "gravely immoral behaviour."

* The pope's letter to Irish Catholics on the clerical sex abuse crisis will be released on Saturday, the Vatican said today.

The pope has said he hopes the letter will help the Irish faithful heal following years of abuse and cover-ups on the part of church leaders.

The Vatican said the text of the letter will be released on Saturday at noon (1100 GMT).

Three Irish government-ordered investigations have documented a catalogue of child abuse and church cover-ups from the 1930s to 1990s involving more than 15,000 children.