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Catholic abuse scandal hits head of German Church

BERLIN (Reuters) - The growing scandal over sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests threatened Germany’s top bishop who was charged on Wednesday with aiding and abetting a known abuser by allowing him to get a new job in a German parish.

File photo of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops' Conference, attending a news conference at the Vatican March 12, 2010. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference and archbishop of Freiburg, was accused by prosecutors in Freiburg in southwest Germany of permitting a priest accused of child abuse in the 1960s to be reappointed to a parish job in 1987.

The church in Freiburg accused the prosecutors and media of “sensationalism” by talking of charges of “aiding and abetting sexual abuse” against the 71-year-old archbishop and denied that the appointment was his direct responsibility.

A rash of accusations of sexual and physical abuse by priests across Europe, the United States and beyond has plunged the Vatican into probably its worst crisis in modern history.

Pope Benedict has been accused of turning a blind eye to an abuse case in 1980 in his native Germany and some U.S. victims’ lawyers want the pontiff himself to stand witness, in attempts to demonstrate negligence by the Vatican.

One German bishop, Walter Mixa of Augsburg, has already had to resign because of accusations against him and bishops and senior churchmen have also quit in Belgium and Ireland.

With pressure for openness and action by the Church, more victims have been encouraged to come out into the open. The Swiss Catholic Church said on Wednesday it had seen a big jump in reports of abuse cases in recent months.

In Germany, Bavarian-born Pope Benedict’s own brother has been accused of physical abuse while Zollitsch has already had to apologize in a separate case for failing to report a case of suspected abuse by a priest to state prosecutors in Freiburg.

Zollitsch, who forced that priest into early retirement, said in March that years later he confronted him over evidence of sexual abuse and told him the Church would now take the case to state prosecutors. The ex-priest then committed suicide.

The Church in Freiburg, where Zollitsch has been archbishop since 2003 and was head of personnel back in 1987, said the decision to reappoint a priest with a history of charges of abuse was taken independently by his order, the Cistercians.