Pope holds meeting on church abuse scandal

The head of Germany’s Catholic
bishops, Robert Zollitsch, is set for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI to
discuss recent reports of sexual abuse at church schools.

Zollitsch, chairman of the German
Bishops Conference, is due to meet Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, to brief him on
some 170 abuse cases at Catholic schools.

The meeting comes as the Vatican
defended itself earlier this week from accusations that it had been too
secretive about the issue of abuse.

Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi
said that the church had “confronted the emergence of the problem rapidly
and decisively,” in a note read out on Vatican Radio.

Lombardi said authorities
“showed a willingness for transparency and, in a way, speeded the revelations
of problems by asking the victims to come forward even in very old cases.”

The church issued its defence after
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said a “wall of
silence,” from the Vatican was hampering probes of sexual abuse of

Archbishop Zollitsch, who is Bishop
of Freiburg, also dismissed Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s criticisms and
rejected her call for talks between the government and clergy to specifically
investigate abuse in the Catholic Church.

However, Catholic representatives
are likely to join Protestant leaders, family associations and school and local
officials at government talks to investigate all schools.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Pope
Benedict to answer questions about whether he had any knowledge of abuse cases
during his tenure as bishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981.

Among the institutions being
investigated in Germany are three church schools Bavaria including one, the
Regensburger Domspatzen School, where the Pope’s brother Georg Ratzinger was
choir head from 1964 to 1994.

“He (the Pope) has to answer
the question of what he knew then” said Christian Weisner, a spokesman for
the German church reform movement We Are Church, in a statement.

In the Netherlands, more than 300
people have lodged complaints of sexual abuse by priests since the beginning of
this month. The allegations follow an investigation into abuse at a monastery
school in the east of the country between the 1950s and 1970s