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Pope's diocese took in priest set for paedophilia therapy

Just hours after Archbishop Robert Zollitsch renewed an apology to victims of predator priests in Germany, it emerged that Pope Benedict XVI once helped a clergyman suspected of child sex abuse secure housing so that he could undergo therapy.


AFP - Pope Benedict XVI once helped get housing for a clergyman suspected of child sex abuse, it emerged Friday, as the pontiff met the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany over a growing paedophile priest scandal.

Just hours after Archbishop Robert Zollitsch renewed an apology to victims of predator priests in Germany, Pope Benedict's former diocese of Munich confirmed a report that, as an archbishop in 1980, the pontiff approved housing for the priest, who was to undergo therapy.

The priest -- identified only as H. -- had been accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"It was decided in 1980 to give H. accommodation in a rectory so that he could receive therapy. The archbishop (Pope Benedict) took part in this decision," the German diocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement.

Six years later, the priest was given a suspended prison sentence for child sex offences. The archdiocese said he still works in Bavaria, with no known repeat violations.

The disclosure added to a widening scandal in Germany that had already come close to Pope Benedict's brother Georg Ratzinger, a former choirmaster.

The first revelations emerged in January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among other boarding schools implicated is one attached to the Domspatzen ("Cathedral Sparrows"), Regensburg cathedral's thousand-year-old choir which was run for 30 years by the pope's older brother.

Ratzinger, 86, said on Tuesday that the alleged sexual abuse in the 1950s and 1960s -- before his time -- was "never discussed".

A proliferation of abuse scandals across Europe has prompted deep soul-searching among church leaders, not least in Germany where 19 of the 27 dioceses have been implicated in allegations.

Zollitsch said after meeting with the pope on Friday: "I want to repeat here in Rome the apology that I made two weeks ago." He also announced the creation of a watchdog to counter abuses.

Pope Benedict meanwhile defended priestly celibacy, calling it "the sign of full devotion" and of an "entire commitment to the Lord".

His comments came a day after Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schoenborn called for an unflinching examination of the possible roots of child sex abuse by priests, saying it should include the issue of celibacy.

Another of Austria's most senior clerics, the Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser, also said the church must ask itself whether celibacy is still an appropriate way of life for priests.

"Times have changed and society has changed," Kothgasser told ORF public television.

German Education Minister Annette Schavan has said there should be "zero tolerance" of child sex abuse.

Most of the priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago. But there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the church to pay compensation.

Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 to condemn paedophilia among clergymen, and he has met with abuse victims in Australia and the United States.

In February, he met with top church officials in Ireland where a similar scandal was compounded by evidence that the hierarchy covered up for predators. The pope then called child abuse a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin".

In 2001, when Pope Benedict was head of the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, he ordered that paedophilia cases be reported to the Holy See, suspecting that many national hierarchies preferred to look the other way.

But earlier this week the pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said the German, Austrian and Dutch churches had acted swiftly and "decisively" to address their respective scandals.

He also noted that sexual abuse went far beyond church walls.


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