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Benedict XVI reeling from fallout of a growing priest abuse scandal in Germany that involves his brother.
Reacting to the crisis, German bishops have called for victims to come forward and denounce their abusers. They've also appointed a bishop as responsible for dealing with abuse cases countrywide and have announced a toughening of their guidelines against child abuse.
In an unusually ample statement, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi praised the German bishops' “timely and decisive action.”
“They have demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved dates from many years ago,” he said.
But there is now fear that new cases might surface. Episodes of pedophilia and brutal physical violence are already being investigated by prosecutors at the Benedictine monastery of Ettal, in Bavaria, which falls under the church jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Munich.
The current leadership of the monastery has resigned, taking full responsibility for the cases, which date from the 1970s to the early 1990s, according to a "special mediator" appointed by the monks.
The Vatican has announced it will send an "apostolic visitor," or investigator, to examine the situation at the monastery. But Christian Weisner, spokesman for the Catholic reform movement We Are Church, challenged the Pope to explain “what he knew then and why he acted as he did.”
“Joseph Ratzinger was bishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981, so he has to answer the question,” he said in a statement.
More cases of abuses seem also bound to come up at the Domspatzen Choir. The director and composer Franz Wittenbrink, who lived in the choir preparatory school until 1967, told Der Spiegel magazine that an “elaborate system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust” was in place in the school. He said the headmaster at the time “would choose two or three of us boys in the dormitories in the evenings and take them to his flat. Everyone knew about it.” He added, “I find it inexplicable that the Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, who had been cathedral bandmaster since 1964, apparently knew nothing about it.”
From English-speaking countries such as the U.S. and Ireland, the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is now spreading quickly through Europe. Sex abuse victims have come forward in 19 of Germany's 27 dioceses, as well as Austria and Holland, where the bishops have ordered an independent investigation. The president of the German bishops, Robert Zollitsch, will be in Rome today for a meeting with the Pope. The audience had already been scheduled for weeks but talks will be inevitably dominated by the abuse issue.
The scandal has also renewed friction between the Vatican and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has accused the church of covering up the scandals and pressed the bishops to cooperate with prosecutors. Germany's Catholic Church now seems willing to take part in “round table” talks about child abuse in schools, together with Protestant leaders, family associations and local officials. It had earlier and somewhat indignantly rejected calls for an investigation into Catholic schools only.