German prosecutors announced on Wednesday that they were investigating claims that the head of the German Bishops' Conference, Robert Zollitsch, aided and abetted a known sex offender in the church.
Prosecutors said that they had received information indicating that, while Zollitsch was in charge of the personnel department of a diocese in southern Germany in 1987, he appointed a priest who was known to have abused children. The archdiocese of Freiburg has released a statement denying that Zollitsch was responsible for the appointment.
Aiding and abetting
Prosecutors confirmed that they had launched an investigation, following reports by public broadcaster ARD and the Suedkurier newspaper.
The Freiburg archdiocese has described the media reports as "absolutely weak" and "sensationalist."
In 1987 Zollitsch was head of the human resources department of the diocese of Freiburg. He is accused of rehiring a priest accused of sexually abusing children in a monestary in the 1960s.
The diocese says that the appointment was entirely in the hands of the monastery's abbot, and that Zollitsch neither knew of the original allegations nor the subsequent re-appointment.
Part of a wider scandal
Sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Church in Germany since January, when dozens of cases emerged involving allegations of the sexual molestation of minors by priests and other clergy over a period of 50 years at Catholic schools.
As head of the bishops' conference, Zollitsch has been at the forefront of the Catholic Church's response to the ongoing reports of abuse. He has often stated that the Church needs to reform and "heal the wounds of victims."
In his Easter messages to his Freiburg parishoners, he said the Catholic Church must examine its "dark aspects as well as our own shadowy sides."
Editor: Rob Turner