The head of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, has admitted that the Roman Catholic Church consciously covered up cases of sexual abuse for decades.
The Catholic Church has been gripped by one of the worst scandals in memory
The weekly German news magazine Focus reported on Sunday that Archbishop Zollitsch, the leader of the German Roman Catholic Church, admitted during an interview with the publication that cases of child sex abuse were known and covered up. "Yes, we did have that," he said, but denied allegations that he personally had suppressed information.
While most cases happened outside the Church, "assaults that took place in such numbers within our institutions shame and frighten me," Zollitsch told Focus. "Every single case darkens the face of the entire Church," he said.
Zollitsch emphasized, however, that the Church has been moving for years in the other direction to uncover and investigate reported cases of sexual abuse.
The archbishop was critical of proposals to file a complaint in every instance of suspected abuse. He said many victims had told him explicitly that they did not desire legal action. He stressed that it was also important to avoid baseless allegations which could ruin the lives of those falsely accused.
The pope and Zollitsch have tried in vain to limit the damage
On Saturday, Zollitsch apologized personally for a cover-up of sexual abuse that happened 20 years ago while he was in charge of human resources and staffing in the Freiburg diocese.
Victims disappointed by papal letter
Meanwhile, many abuse victims have expressed deep disappointment with the content of a pastoral letter published by Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday.
Victims in Ireland, to whom the letter was addressed, said the pontiff had not accepted the responsibility of the Vatican, nor did he recognize that there was a structural problem within the Church. "My first reaction was deep disappointment," said Maeve Lewis from the One-in-four alliance.
Catholics in the United States said the pope should have mentioned the extent of sexual abuse in numerous countries. Benedict also made no reference to the cases in Germany, his home country.
Editor: Andreas Illmer