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Pope 'deeply shaken' in meeting with sex abuse victims in Germany

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 24, 2011 -- Updated 0233 GMT (1033 HKT)
Pope Benedict XVI gives a blessing during a vesper service in Etelsbach, Germany, on Friday.
Pope Benedict XVI gives a blessing during a vesper service in Etelsbach, Germany, on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pope Benedict XVI meets with victims of clergy abuse in his native Germany
  • He "expressed his deep compassion and regret," the Vatican reports
  • It is his first state visit to Germany, which included meetings with top officials
  • The pope also pushed for "a fruitful collaboration" with Muslims

Berlin (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI met Friday with a group of people who had been sexually abused by clergy in his native Germany, where disenchantment with the Roman Catholic Church has grown in the wake of the scandal.

The meeting, which occurred at a seminary in Erfurt, came on the second day of the pontiff's four-day visit to his homeland. Besides talking with victims of sexual abuse committed by priests and church personnel, he also met with people "who care for those injured by these crimes," according to a statement from the Vatican press office.

"Moved and deeply shaken by the sufferings of the victims, the Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families," the statement added. "He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to effective measures for the protection of children."

The pope has had similar meetings elsewhere, in the face of outcries from many nations in Europe, North America and beyond criticizing the church for its handling of sexual abuse cases.

Friday's visit was unique in that it took place in the homeland of Benedict, where he'd also served as a cardinal. He himself got caught up in the scandal in at least one case, when he -- as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- approved the transfer of a man within Germany in the wake of accusations that the man had abused children.

But the archdiocese has said the then-cardinal was never personally aware of the details of the man's case. In March 2010, the priest -- then identified only as H -- was suspended, the archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced.

Five years earlier, enthusiasm was high in Germany's Catholic community when Benedict was named pope. But the sex abuse scandal, and a perception that a conservative church is unlikely to change its ways, has affected the church in the European nation.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, more than 181,000 Catholics have left the church since the scandal broke. And candidates for the priesthood have plummeted 62% since 1990, according to the German Bishops Conference.

While he has visited Germany three times since 2005, this marks Benedict's first state visit as pope.

On Thursday, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulf. He also gave a speech before the Reichstag, Germany's parliament, in which he spoke of the "inviolable dignity of every single human person."

Benedict began his day Friday with a mass in Berlin and he met with 15 representatives of Germany's Muslim community. In a subsequent speech, he said, "the convictions (Catholics and Muslims) are becoming visible" while adding that "constant effort is needed in order to foster better mutual acquaintance and understanding."

"There can be a fruitful collaboration between Christians and Muslims," Benedict said in the speech, a transcript of which was provided by the Vatican. "We can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society (such as) the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice."

CNN's Rick Noack contributed to this report.

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