World News

German protestant bishop steps down over abuse report

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German Lutheran bishop resigned on Friday following a report she had allowed a pastor accused of sexual abuse of teenagers in her diocese continued contact with youngsters.

In an echo of scandals hitting the Catholic church, Spiegel news magazine reported last week that Bishop Maria Jepsen, 65, heard in 1999 that the pastor had abused teenagers in his care, but let him stay in contact with youngsters until 2000.

At a news conference, Jepsen, who became the world’s first female Lutheran bishop in 1992, did not say when she first heard the allegations, but said she felt her credibility was now in question.

“I no longer feel I am in a position to spread the good word as I promised at ordination and when I was made bishop,” she said.

It was the first such case to hit the German Evangelical Church, which groups Lutheran and Protestant congregations with membership of an estimated 24 million people.

Jespen’s church in Hamburg said it only found out about the case in March this year and immediately took disciplinary action while the public prosecutor’s office said it began legal investigations in May this year into seven abuse allegations in the diocese.

Germany set up a series of round tables in March this year to look into abuse cases in the Roman Catholic church but also Protestant churches and both religious and secular schools.

The Catholic church has been hardest hit by abuse cases so far, around the world and in Germany.

A bishop from Augsburg in Pope Benedict’s native Bavaria had to quit over accusations of beating schoolchildren and the head of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch, is under investigation for letting a priest accused of child abuse in the 1960s be reappointed to a parish job decades later.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Michael Nienaber; writing by Stephen Brown