German bishops sorry about sex

2010-02-22 22:08

Freiburg - German bishops sought forgiveness on Monday from more than 120 victims of sexual abuse at Catholic-run schools and institutions.

"I apologise to the victims of such crimes," the chairman of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, said, pledging to carry out a thorough investigation.

Germany has been rocked a series of revelations over the past three weeks that priests at schools run by the Jesuits and other Catholic orders sexually abused those under their care.

Charges cannot be laid, because most of the cases happened more than 30 ago. The scandal came to light last month when a former Jesuit priest now living in Chile wrote a letter of apology to former pupils.

Zollitsch said the Roman Catholic church in Germany would do more to protect children and young people from sexual advances and draw up new guidelines for priests.

The issue was expected to dominate the spring assembly of the Bishops Conference, which began in the southern town of Freiburg on Monday.

"Sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime. It is even more serious in the case of the church because of the special trust placed in priests by children and young people," Zollitsch said.

120 cases

The Catholic church is co-operating with the authorities in investigating the allegations of abuse, he added.

Former school pupils have accused 12 staff at Jesuit schools in Germany of different forms of sexual abuse, a lawyer hired by the order said in Berlin last week.

Over the weekend reports surfaced of abuse at a home run by the Salesian order of priests in the German capital.

In the meantime, the number of sexual abuse claims has risen to more than 120. There have also been reports of physical abuse by nuns at Church-run children's homes, some dating back to the 1960s.

In one case, nuns at a home in the southern state of Rhineland Palatinate were accused by one victim of making children eat their own vomit and beating them with sticks on their genitals.

Ursula Raue, the lawyer hired by the Jesuits, said a team of investigators would be formed to interview all 115 to 120 complainants known to her.

Raue said she had seen the personnel files on the staff and had been shocked that although school principals evidently knew of the allegations, nothing was done to counsel or help the victims.