VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A German Catholic bishop said on Thursday the media had exaggerated a child abuse scandal in his diocese and there was no need to involve the pope.
A day before a meeting between Pope Benedict and the head of the German Bishops Conference in the Vatican, Bishop Gerhard Mueller of Regensburg said the Church would offer counselling to victims of priestly abuse but most of these cases were old.
“A lot of this is a great fuss made by mass media and we have other problems in Germany at the moment,” Mueller told journalists at the Vatican. “Besides, there is no need to act because those are cases in the past.”
“We can’t turn back the clock but our main task is to offer justice to the victims from that time.”
Reports last month of over 100 cases of abuse at Jesuit schools sparked outrage in Gemany. They have been followed by accusations of beating and paedophilia at three Catholic schools in Bavaria, including one linked to the prestigious Regensburg choir run by the Pope’s brother from 1964-1994.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, due for annual talks with the pope on Friday, has admitted German bishops initially underestimated the problem. They have since vowed to cooperate with investigators and urged those responsible to come forward.
“The Holy Father does not need to be called for help because we as the Church and we as the German bishops are perfectly capable of dealing with this situation,” Mueller said.
With allegations of abuse multiplying in Austria and the Netherlands, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi acknowledged this week the “gravity of the crisis the Church is undergoing”.
The allegations follow years of damaging scandals in Ireland and the United States. The U.S. Church has paid some $2 billion in settlements since 1992, bankrupting some dioceses, while Irish victims have called for 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) in compensation.
The Murphy report commissioned by the Irish government found that the Church concealed abuse in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004. On Monday, Germany’s justice minister accused the Vatican of covering up the scandals there.
DEFENDS POPE’S BROTHER
Regensburg, where the pope taught theology at the university from 1969 to 1977, said on Wednesday it had appointed a lawyer to investigate abuse cases from the 1950s and 1960s.
Mueller defended the Pope’s brother, Rev. Georg Ratzinger, 86, who has acknowledged he slapped pupils in the face to discipline them but has denied any knowledge of sexual abuse.
“A smack used as a punishment has nothing to do with sexual abuse. These were educational methods used all over Europe,” Mueller said. “For us, sexually abusing children is a serious sin and it is a crime.”
In Austria, however, accusations of clerical abuse continue to grow. Former pupils of the Kremsmuenster Abbey told media that three of their Benedictine monk teachers committed sexual abuse on children and beat them during the 1980s.
More alleged cases of abuse were reported in two other regions from former students at religious institutions.
Helpline services in the Salzburg province, where an archabbot resigned on Monday after confessing to abusing a boy 40 years ago, said they were planning to increase their capacity to cope with an influx of calls.
The scandal has stirred a debate within the Church about sexual ethics. An opinion article in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano suggested a greater female presence in the Church hierarchy might have helped remove the “veil of masculine secrecy” that concealed priestly abuse.
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn has also called for the Church to openly discuss taboo issues such as celibacy, priestly training and more liberal social attitudes to sex.
Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Alexandra Zawadil in Vienna; writing by Daniel Flynn, editing by Paul Taylor
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