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Church leader admits failure, urges reflection, in abuse scandal

The German Bishops' Conference has begun its annual autumn meeting in Fulda by apologizing for the Catholic Church's abuse scandal. Yet one demand for financial compensation by a victims' group was dismissed.

A priest's hand holding a rosary

Zollitsch urged German bishops to communicate more openly

A German archbishop admitted on Monday the Catholic Church's failure to cope with the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Church in Germany for months.

"We know that we failed," Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference and the Archbishop of Freiburg, told its autumn meeting in the central city of Fulda, adding that the widespread problem of molestation by pedophile priests had been "recognized too late."

Robert Zollitsch

Zollitsch said victims wanted a voice, not money

Zollitsch said payouts to victims were on the table for discussion. However, he dismissed a demand by a prominent victims' group for 80,000 euros ($105,000) to each victim, calling it unrealistic.

"We don't want to speak of concrete figures," said Zollitsch.

Zollitsch claimed that most of those affected were not looking for financial "compensation", but that "they want to be heard," he said.

German Jesuit leaders said Friday they were prepared to offer payouts without waiting for action by the Bishop's Conference.

Redefining the Catholic Church in Germany

The meeting of 67 bishops and auxiliary bishops from 27 dioceses was set to discuss how sexual abuse of minors can better be prevented in the future. Zollitsch said that a proposal had already been prepared and that Germany's bishops needed to agree to it.

Zollitsch also urged bishops, priests and laypeople to begin a "broad process of reflection" concerning not only the Church's sexual abuse scandal, but also the role of laypeople within the Church, as well as the Church's understanding of family, partnership and sexuality.

Fulda Cathedral

Bishops will discuss preventing abuse during their traditional autumn meeting in Fulda

The head of the Conference called on his fellow bishops to begin communicating more freely with each other, and he criticized the Church's internal and external communication during the scandal.

"The new start that we are looking for has to begin with us," he said.

The Archbishop meanwhile critized the media's handling of the scandal, while rejecting claims that journalists themselves had mounted the affair.

'Giving victims a voice was our duty'

"In the end I wonder, though, if we shouldn't be more angry that it was the media who gave a voice to the victims - which actually should have been our duty," he said.

In late August the Church in Germany announced tougher guidelines on investigating and preventing child sex abuse that it hopes will stop a repeat of this year's damaging revelations.

The pope said Sunday at the end of a visit to the UK that the scandals over sexual abuse by pedophile priests had severely weakened Church leaders' "moral credibility."

Author: David Levitz (AFP/dpa/epd/KNA)

Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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