The world's first female Protestant bishop Maria Jepsen has resigned in Hamburg following a report she had allowed a pastor accused of sexual abuse in her diocese continued contact with youngsters.
Jepsen announced her resignation Friday in Hamburg
The cases of abuse date back to the 1980s when a pastor in the town of Ahrensburg reportedly sexually abused as many as 20 children.
Jepsen said she had only become aware of cases in March of this year when she received a letter from one of the victims. But a recent report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel and the daily Hamburger Abendblatt indicated Jepsen knew of the priest's suspected behavior in 1999.
"My credibility has been contested," Jepsen told reporters in Hamburg. "For that reason, I do not see myself in a position to continue to spread God's word as I had promised."
A victims' association accused a church-instigated disciplinary committee, set up to investigate the now retired pastor in question, of foot-dragging. The disciplinary committee was due to produce its findings by autumn.
"I expect that the... cases in Ahrensburg and elsewhere will be swiftly investigated and that the truth will come to light," Jepsen said.
The head of Germany's Protestant Church, Nikolaus Schneider, said he respected Jepsen's decision.
"Jepsen has always shown a clear understanding that the victims' needs come first," he said. "It shows that the Protestants are ready to accept responsibility for what has happened without trying to protect themselves."
Former Schleswig-Holstein Premier Heide Simonis said she was shocked and praised Jepsen.
"I know that she is a woman of real integrity and that she has fought for certain things, in particular for the rights of woman, both within the church and outside it," said Simonis.
The 65-year-old Jepsen became the world's first female Protestant bishop in 1992. She is the third bishop to resign in Germany in recent months. Catholic Bishop Walter Mixa resigned over a sex abuse scandal, and former head of the Protestant Church in Germany, Margot Kaesmann, resigned after she was caught by police drunk driving.
Author: Matt Zuvela, Richard Connor (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Sean Sinico