Skip to main content

Pope's ex-diocese suspends sex-abuse priest

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the Lutheran church in Rome Monday as a deepening sex abuse scandal engulfs the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the Lutheran church in Rome Monday as a deepening sex abuse scandal engulfs the Vatican.
  • Pope -- then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- approved man's move from Essen to Munich
  • Unnamed priest was in therapy for having abused children when he was transferred
  • There has been "no trial" in 60 percent of cases said Vatican official
  • More than half the roughly 3,000 priests accused of sexual impropriety were never tried

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- A priest who was accused of sexually abusing children -- and whose subsequent move from one location to another the pope approved when he was a German cardinal -- has been suspended, his archdiocese announced Monday. The priest was later convicted.

The priest, identified only as H, violated the terms set out for him after his conviction, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising said in a statement. It did not say what the violation was, but at the time of his conviction by a German court, he was ordered to pay a fine and not work with children again.

The priest's superior also resigned, the church said.

The pope -- then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- approved the man's move in the wake of the accusations from Essen to Munich in the early 1980s, but the archdiocese said the cardinal was never personally aware of the details of the man's case.

The priest was in therapy for having abused children when he was transferred, the archdiocese said.

Officials said the priest was released from church service in 2008 and was no longer serving actively as a priest. He was a church counselor for tourists.

The move comes as hundreds of alleged victims have come forward in Germany, claiming priests abused them. Some allege the abuse was sexual, while others refer to physical violence such as slapping.

German lawyers representing alleged victims said there are more than 300 cases across Germany.

Ursula Raue, who is representing alleged victims of sex abuse by a Jesuit order in Berlin, said she "must have had around 1,000 calls, none of them less than half an hour long."

Video: Scandal rocks German church
Video: Alleged abuse victim speaks
Video: Pope's role adds new wrinkle

"Many people keep saying to me that this is the first time anyone has actually listened or believed my story," she said.

Although she's a lawyer, in this instance she describes herself as a go-between between the alleged victims and the Jesuit-run Canisius College in Berlin. She has 160 cases she's looking into throughout Germany, she said.

The Vatican has been working hard to defend the German-born Pope Benedict XVI as the scandal spreads.

As the head of the Vatican's doctrinal arm in Rome before he became pope, Ratzinger "initiated intense activities to confront, judge and adequately punish the crimes in the context of ecclesiastical legislation," Vatican spokesman the Federico Lombardi said Saturday.

"The line he followed was always one of rigor and coherence in dealing with even the most difficult situations," he said. Read why the allegations could mean trouble for the pope

Also on Saturday, a top Vatican official said Catholic Church officials never prosecuted more than half the roughly 3,000 priests accused of sexual impropriety in the last decade.

There has been "no trial" in 60 percent of cases, mostly "because of the advanced age of the accused," said Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, head of the Vatican office that investigates crimes the church considers most serious.

The priests in those cases were subject to "administrative and disciplinary provisions" such as instructions not to celebrate Mass or hear confessions, Scicluna told L'Avvenire, the Italian Catholic bishops' newspaper.

Those cases include some of the most "sensational... which have caught the attention of the media," he said, without revealing more details.

Scicluna insisted the priests in question had not been absolved of their sins.

"It's true that there has been no formal condemnation, but if a person is obliged to live a life of silence and prayer, then there must be a reason," he said in an unusually revealing interview.

It is like a tsunami or an extensive fire
--Rev. Andreas Batlogg, editor of Stimmen der Zeit

Scicluna was talking only about investigations by the church, not by civil authorities.

The Vatican released an official English translation of the remarks, which come as accusations of child abuse by priests sweep across Western Europe.

A damning Irish government-backed report into child abuse by priests led four bishops to resign in December, and Pope Benedict XVI is expected to issue a formal statement, or pastoral letter, about it before Easter.

The Netherlands, Austria and Germany also are facing new allegations of child abuse -- including ones in a diocese once directly connected to the pope and to his brother, Georg Ratzinger.

The coming months are likely produce more sexual abuse allegations across Europe.

"It is like a tsunami or an extensive fire," said the Rev. Andreas Batlogg, editor of the German Jesuit magazine Stimmen der Zeit. "The estimated number of undetected cases seems to be far higher than the yet known ones."

Nearly every day since the end of January, more Germans have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, with roughly 170 reporting such abuse.

Two self-identified German victims were connected to a boy's choir that was directed by the pope's brother from 1964 to 1994.

Scicluna's disclosures about the number of complaints and the results come as the Vatican fights to show it is handling the problem properly -- and to protect the pope.

About 20 percent of priests accused of "delicta graviora" faced full trial by church officials -- many of which ended in convictions, he said. Ten percent requested a discharge from the priesthood, and the pope summarily dismissed 10 percent, Scicluna said.

A small minority of the 3,000 complaints against priests accused them of abusing children, he added.

"About sixty percent of the cases chiefly involved sexual attraction toward adolescents of the same sex, another 30 percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining 10 percent were cases of pedophilia in the true sense of the term," he said.

About 300 priests were accused of child abuse between 2001 and 2010, he confirmed.

He said the problem was "not as widespread as has been believed."

"Please don't misunderstand me. These are of course too many," he said.

There are about 400,000 Catholic priests around the world, he said, in an attempt to illustrate that the number of complaints against priests is relatively small.

Most of the complaints came from the United States, he said.

Scicluna said the Vatican should reconsider its policy of not prosecuting particularly old complaints.

The Vatican has a 10-year statute of limitations on child abuse, starting from the date the alleged victim turns 18. Pope John Paul II introduced the policy in 2001, at the height of scandals in Boston, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California.

"The limit of 10 years is not enough in this kind of case," Scicluna said. "It would be better to return to the earlier system of 'delicta graviora' not being subject to [a] statue of limitations."

CNN's Hada Messia in Rome and Dan Gilgoff in Atlanta, Georgia, contributed to this report