, VATICAN CITY, Mar 12 – The head of Germany\’s Roman Catholic Church issued a new apology to victims of paedophile priests as he met the pope Friday and announced the creation of a watchdog to counter abuses.
"I want to repeat here in Rome the apology that I made two weeks ago," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg told a news conference in the Vatican after meeting Pope Benedict XVI.
Zollitsch said the pope had praised "the steps taken by the German Bishops Conference (including) the naming of a bishop as a special counsel" who would act as a watchdog on the issue of the sexual abuse of children.
Paedophile priest scandals have swept Germany since late January, one coming close to the pontiff\’s brother Georg Ratzinger, a former choirmaster.
On February 22, Zollitsch said he was "deeply shocked" by the scandals and asked for victims\’ forgiveness.
"Sexual abuse of minors is always a heinous crime. I want to associate myself with this statement from Pope Benedict and apologise to all those who were a victim of such crimes," he said then.
The tidal wave of scandals over predator priests and teachers has engulfed 19 of Germany\’s 27 dioceses and are among several to have rocked the Catholic Church lately, notably in Ireland last year, and now Austria and The Netherlands as well.
Germany\’s shock revelations began in late January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.
Among other boarding schools implicated is one attached to the Domspatzen ("Cathedral Sparrows"), Regensburg cathedral\’s thousand-year-old choir which was run for 30 years by the pope\’s older brother.
On Tuesday Ratzinger, 86, said that the alleged sexual abuse in the 1950s and 1960s — before his time — was "never discussed".
The German government spoke out on the scandal, with Education Minister Annette Schavan saying there should be "zero tolerance" of the sexual abuse of children.
Most of the priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago, but there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the Church to pay compensation.
The Church has promised to shed light on all allegations, even those that are decades old.
Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 to condemn priestly paedophilia, and he has met with abuse victims in the United States and Australia.
In the United States the pope said those found guilty of paedophilia would be removed from the priesthood and the Church.
In February when he met with top officials of the Irish Catholic Church, where the scandal was compounded by evidence that the hierarchy covered up for predator priests, the pope called child abuse a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin".
In 2001, when Benedict was head of the Vatican\’s doctrinal watchdog, he ordered that paedophilia cases be reported to the Holy See, suspecting that many national hierarchies preferred to look the other way.
However earlier this week the pope\’s spokesman, Federico Lombardi, insisted the German, Austrian and Dutch churches had acted swiftly and "decisively" to address the scandals and stressed that sexual abuse went far beyond church walls.
The proliferation of scandals in Europe has rekindled debate about the requirement of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests.
The pope on Friday reaffirmed the "sacred" nature of priestly celibacy, calling it a "sign of… entire commitment to the Lord and to the \’Lord\’s business\’, an expression of giving oneself to God and to others."
Austrian Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser said Friday: "Times have changed and society has changed" as he questioned "whether celibacy is an appropriate way of life for priests."
In a television interview, Kothgasser said he also regretted that the Church had made mistakes in investigating cases of sexual abuse. "We need new effort for more honesty and truthfulness, but there still isn\’t the necessary openness there."