BERLIN (Reuters) - The Regensburg diocese in Pope Benedict’s native Bavaria confirmed new allegations of child sexual abuse against four priests and two nuns on Monday, in the latest cases damaging the Catholic Church’s image in Germany.
The diocese vowed to hand any concrete criminal evidence to the public prosecutor, even though the statute of limitations has expired. Those suspected of sexual abuse will be suspended pending the investigation, it added.
“The work over the past two weeks has shown us the grave injustice committed by clergy members. Our sympathy goes out to the victims of these crimes and their families. We deeply regret what the clergy and church workers did to these children and young people and ask for forgiveness,” the diocese said.
One of the four priests resides in Regensburg, and the dioceses of the three others have been informed of the charges, the Church statement said. The nuns suffer from dementia and are barely responsive, it added.
Most of the alleged incidents occurred in the 1970s, though one was in 1984, it said.
The new allegations follow a series of allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the cathedral choir in Regensburg, the Benedictine monastery school at Ettal and a Capucian school in Burghausen that have come to light in recent weeks.
More than 250 people are alleged to have been abused at church-run schools in recent decades, German media reports say.
Also in Regensburg, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller came under fire for a sermon on Saturday that appeared to compare critical media coverage of the abuse scandal in Germany to Nazi propaganda campaigns against the church.
Speaking at the 100-year anniversary of the German Catholic Women’s League, Mueller said that over 1,000 local Catholics, mostly women, had demonstrated against Nazi injustice in 1941 and such courage was needed again to counter today’s media.
“Now we are again witnessing a campaign against the church,” he said. “The aim is to undermine the church’s credibility.”
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called his account of heroic resistance to the Nazis a “falsification of history.” Hans-Ulrich Pfaffmann, a Social Democrat in Bavaria’s state assembly, called the bishop’s comments a “kick in the face” to abuse victims.
The diocese has accused state-run Bavarian radio, which first reported the story, of distorting the sermon.
Mueller’s blast at the media echoed similar criticisms in Italy and Ireland as daily reports on discoveries of new abuse charges have put the church increasingly on the defensive.
The abuse charges in Regensburg are particularly sensitive because German-born Pope Benedict taught theology there from 1969 to 1977. His brother, Rev. Georg Ratzinger, has admitted to slapping boys in the Regensburg choir he once led.
On Saturday, Pope Benedict apologized to Irish sexual abuse victims in an official letter but stopped short of addressing charges in his native Germany or other countries, disappointing many German Catholics hoping for at least a brief comment.
Writing by Christopher Lawton, editing by Tom Heneghan