An apology by the pope's brother for not doing anything to stop the abuse of students in the 1960s is a "wonderful sign" that the church plans to get to the bottom of the allegations, a top Roman Catholic prelate said Wednesday.
Prelate Karl Juesten, the liaison between Catholic bishops and the German government, told The Associated Press that the Rev. Georg Ratzinger's apology to the victims was an act of courage.
"It is certainly not easy for such a man to publicly apologize," Juesten said.
Ratzinger, the older brother of Pope Benedict XVI, says he knew of allegations of physical abuse at an elementary school in Germany decades ago and apologized for doing nothing about it.
Ratzinger had first said he was unaware of any abuse, and Juesten said that others should now follow the 86-year-old Ratzinger's lead in coming clean.
"The other perpetrators should follow the example set by Mr. Ratzinger and apologize to the victims for the abuse they have committed," he said.
The German abuse allegations are particularly sensitive because Germany is the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI and because the scandals involve the prestigious choir that was led by Georg Ratzinger from 1964 till 1994.
Ratzinger's apology came Tuesday after the allegations of physical abuse at the school surfaced last week.
In a separate case, the pope's brother has said he was unaware of allegations of sexual abuse at the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir — incidents alleged to have occurred in the early 1960s before Ratzinger led the choir.
It is not known if Pope Benedict, who served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 as then-Joseph Ratzinger, was aware of any of the child abuse cases that took places at Catholic schools and other institutions at the time, Juesten said.
"We do not know if the pope knew about the abuse cases at the time," Juesten said. "However, we assume that this is not the case."
Juesten said the current archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx, will be "certainly investigating these questions."
Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s. And across Germany, more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools.
Ratzinger has repeatedly said the sexual abuse allegations date from before his tenure as choir director.
"These things were never discussed," Ratzinger told Tuesday's Passauer Neue Presse German daily. "The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of."
He did admit to often slapping students in the face, but said he was happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980.
The abuse cases in Germany are expected to be brought up this week at the Vatican in a regular meeting between the head of the German bishops conference, Bishop Robert Zollitsch, and the pope.
The German government has also announced plans for "round table" meetings involving school, church and other representatives to work on ways of detecting, preventing and dealing with future abuse. The first meeting is set for April 23.
Marx, the Munich archbishop, welcomed the plans.
"It's good that representatives of all relevant groups in society are invited," he told the Muenchner Merkur daily.
"I feel shame" about the abuse cases in the Catholic church, he said.
In other developments Tuesday, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg, Austria, admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.
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