Now German bishops say 'sorry'
Top cleric apologises to victims sexually abused by priests
The head of Germany's Catholic bishops has apologised to victims of rape and molestation by priests, dating back at least to the 1970s.
The apology comes on the heels of Pope Benedict XVI's recent words of condemnation.
"Sexual abuse of minors is always a heinous crime," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops' Conference, said yesterday in Freiburg, Germany.
"I support this wording by Pope Benedict out of a deep conviction and apologise to all victims of such crimes."
Pope Benedict is desperately seeking to contain the damage to the Vatican's reputation from European sex abuse scandals that began here and have spread to his German homeland.
On February 16, he called repeated instances of sexual abuse a "heinous crime" after summoning Irish bishops to Rome.
Germany's Catholic bishops are discussing possible changes to anti-abuse guidelines in effect since 2000 as well as ways to prevent future abuse at a meeting that began in Freiburg yesterday. Even so, the guidelines "have worked" and were designed to ensure co-operation with prosecutors in abuse cases, Archbishop Zollitsch said.
At least 115 people had come forward since January saying they were abused at schools run by Jesuits in Germany, Ursula Raue, a lawyer appointed by the order to investigate the cases, said on February 18. Most cases occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, she said.
Abuse was first reported by Canisius-Kolleg, a Jesuit-run secondary school in Berlin. While the school principal mentioned allegations of abuse by former students to Jesuit leaders in Germany in 2006, he said at the time that they didn't want to go public, according to a statement by Stefan Dartmann, the order's head in Germany, on the school website.
The Pope, so far, has taken no direct action to quell public indignation about the sexual abuse in Germany.
He has already drawn fire for being slow to respond to Irish investigations last year that documented "endemic" abuse of children since the 1930s.
The Pope waited for more than two weeks to react officially to the Murphy report, which said the hierarchy was more concerned with avoiding scandal than protecting children.
The Pope has drafted an open letter to Irish Catholics that "will be issued during the coming season of Lent", the Vatican said.
Pope Benedict has made some efforts to deal with abuse scandals since he became Pope in April 2005. He visited the US and Australia for the first time in 2008 and apologised to victims of abuse, becoming the first pontiff to do so.