German minister lashes at Vatican

March 8, 2010 12:00 am

, BERLIN, Mar 8 – Germany\’s justice minister hit out at the Vatican on Monday over a child sex abuse scandal engulfing the country\’s Roman Catholic Church, including at a choir formerly run by the pope\’s brother.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that a "wall of silence" was particularly prevalent at Catholic-run schools because of a 2001 Church directive that cases of abuse be "subject to papal confidentiality".

This meant that allegations of abuse "were not supposed to go outside the Church but instead were meant to be investigated internally," the minister told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Stephan Ackermann, the bishop of Trier, who has been put in charge of investigating abuse by the German Episcopal Conference, rejected this, saying that common Church practice was for state authorities to investigate.

The German Catholic Church has been rocked in recent weeks by a snowballing scandal over abuse of children at Church-run schools dating back several decades.

Pope Benedict XVI last month called child abuse a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin" as he wrapped up talks with two dozen bishops seeking to limit the damage from a spate of similar scandals, most notably in Ireland.

In Germany the first revelations surfaced in January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted the systematic sexual abuse of its pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Other Catholic schools have since been implicated as more victims come forward, including a boarding school attached to the Domspatzen, a thousand-year-old choir run by Georg Ratzinger, the German-born pope\’s brother, between 1964 and 1993.

Meanwhile, a report into alleged past abuse at a monastic school in Ettal, near the Swiss border, said last week that minors "were massively abused over decades, sexually, physically and psychologically" by several monks.

None of the priests concerned is expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago. At present cases can only be pursued for 20 years after a victim turns 18.

However Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger rejected calls, including from Education Minister Annette Schavan, for the statute of limitations to be changed or even scrapped altogether in cases of child abuse.

"I don\’t think this would be a silver bullet," she said.

One exception could be a case of alleged "questionable behaviour" by a priest dating back to 1999 that the diocese of Augsburg in Bavaria said on Monday was to be re-opened.

The diocese said in a statement that the priest, given another job with no contact with children after complaints from parents, had to contact prosecutors by the end of the day or the diocese would contact them itself.

The chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, Robert Zollitsch, was due to meet with the pope on March 12 at the Vatican to discuss the cases.


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