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German church apologises for abuse

FULDA, Germany -- Germany's Roman Catholic Church has apologised to victims of sexual abuse by priests, admitting it failed to deal adequately with the problem.

The church also pledged new vigilance to deal with abuse and prevent it in the future.

Bishops meeting in the central city of Fulda this week agreed on new guidelines for handling sexual abuse by priests.

The promise was made in response to a spate of cases in Germany and broader scandals that have troubled Pope John Paul II and shaken the church worldwide.

"When a clergyman abuses a child or youth, he darkens the Christian message and the credibility of the church," the German Bishops' Conference said in a statement announcing the guidelines.

Past ignorance of the nature and causes of sexual abuse meant that "often there was an inappropriate reaction. With regard to the victims, we are deeply sorry about this," it said.

Although Germany has more Protestants -- 38 percent -- than members of any other religion, more than a third of Germans -- 34 percent -- are Roman Catholics.

Earlier this month the pope -- who has said he feels personally wounded by recent abuse scandals -- said that to preserve itself, the church had to be much more careful not to let men with "deviations in their affections" enter the priesthood.

In an address to overseas bishops visiting Rome, the 82-year-old pontiff also reaffirmed the church's rule on celibacy, saying it should not be seen as a "useless" imposition but a vital part of a tradition in which the priest offers himself unconditionally to God.

The German bishops promised that that from now on, they would nominate a church official to swiftly investigate all allegations and suspicions of abuse of minors. The nominated official will talk to suspected priests and the victims in the presence of a church lawyer.

Where suspicions grow, the church will report the cases to state prosecutors if the priest is unwilling to approach authorities himself. Bishops are to be kept informed of all cases.

Priests found guilty of abuse are to receive therapy and be moved to duties that keep them away from children. In serious cases, they could be expelled from the priesthood.

Some German priests have been convicted of abusing children in the past decade. But unlike other countries such as the United States and Poland, but no major sex-abuse scandals have hit the German church.

Until now, the German church left it up to each diocese to deal with priests accused of molestation and had no nationwide data on such offenders.

German bishops agreed in April to study the need for new guidelines on handling clergy's sex abuse of minors, but the church insists that cases discovered in Germany do not indicate a widespread problem.

المصدر:

http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/09/27...ests/index.html