Prosecutors in Germany have opened a child-sex inquiry involving a Catholic priest, it was disclosed Thursday, just one week after Pope Benedict XVI spoke about clerical molestation during his visit to the United States.
The Catholic Church has been at the center of a number of abuse scandals across the globe
Prosecutors are looking into possible sexual abuse of children by the priest in the northern German city of Hamburg.
The Archdiocese of Hamburg announced Thursday that the cleric had been suspended for the duration of the police inquiry.
A city newspaper, the Hamburger Abendblatt, said a complaint against the priest was filed by Krzysztof Stobinski, a Catholic layman on the archdiocese of Hamburg's pastoral council and president of the Polish Business Club in the city.
The newspaper said the allegations had been discovered in correspondence dating back to 1999 and 2000 which had requested action over a homosexual priest who had been seen kissing and fondling an altar boy.
The newspaper said it had seen the details, but it did not print the priest's name. The priest worked in the Hamburg archdiocese on loan from another diocese.
Responding, Archbishop Werner Thissen said he had not been aware of the allegations until the newspaper story appeared.
Church moves to protect alleged victim
The church feels it has an obligation to help the victims
"I am very upset that a priest of our church is suspected of such a thing," he said in a statement. "I have suspended the priest involved from his duties until (there is) a finding over the allegations.
"This is being done to both protect potential victims and out of obligation to the suspect. We will do all in our power to contribute to an investigation of these claims.
"If young people have been damaged by the actions of a priest, we deeply deplore it. We'll do all we can to help such young people."
Only last month, a German priest in Bavaria, southern Germany, was found guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy 22 times in the last five years. It was later revealed that the priest had been sentenced to parole in 2000 for molesting another child.
In a mass at St. Patrick's cathedral in New York last Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI pledged his support for Roman Catholic clerics as they struggled to come to terms with a church sex scandal.
Pope addresses US scandals on visit
The pope offered his support to priests in New York
The scandal "has caused so much suffering" and damaged "the community of the faithful," the pope said in his homily to hundreds of clerics and men and women of religious orders gathered in the St. Patrick's cathedral for the first-ever mass celebrated there by a pope.
Benedict urged clergy members and religious communities "to cooperate with your bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue."
The pope assured them of his "spiritual closeness" as they strive to respond to the "continuing challenges" presented by the sex-abuse scandal, which the 81-year-old pontiff had made an overarching theme of his six-day US visit.
The US church has been shaken financially and morally by the scandal, which erupted in 2002 when the then-archbishop of Boston confessed to having shielded a priest he knew had sexually abused young people.
According to information provided by the US church, there have been 14,000 victims of some 4,000 to 5,000 clerics since the 1960s.