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Will German Catholic church abuse case reach Pope Benedict?

Investigations into charges of sexual and physical abuse of children by German Catholic priests are getting under way, and involve a choir run by Pope Benedict's brother. Did the pontiff know about the allegations when he was a bishop in his home country? "We do not know," a German Catholic church spokesman said.

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Mr. Scheulen’s investigation is expected to be finished in a few weeks. Rev. Ratzinger did not return calls for comment, but has publicly asked for forgiveness.

The second investigation will be conducted by the Catholic diocese of Regensburg in southern Germany and will explore allegations that boys were sexually and physically abused at Catholic schools around Germany. So far, more than 170 former students have accused clergy members of sexual or physical abuse.

When asked if Pope Benedict, who served as bishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, had any direct knowledge of the allegations of abuse, German Bishop’s Conference spokesman Karl Juesten told the Associated Press, "We do not know if the pope knew about the abuse cases at the time.”

These cases include allegations of naked beatings, fondling, and sodomy.

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Similarities with US cover-up?

There are similarities between the cover-up of sexual abuse in US Catholic schools and the case unfolding now in Germany. As in the United States, the initial allegations were made through the media - in this case, Der Spiegel, a widely read German magazine known for its investigative reporting.

In January, the magazine reported a series of allegations about a Catholic school in Berlin. After the initial allegations, additional people came forward with similar stories. With each new allegation came revelations that the church knew about the accusations, but did nothing to stop them except to shuffle accused priests around the country.

Germans, about 30 percent of whom are Catholic, reacted with outrage in the early days of the scandal. As it has unfolded, outrage has turned to stunned shock as Pope Benedict, beloved here as the first German pope, has been drawn closer to the scandal.

"The pope, as a German pope is affected," Andreas Batlogg, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Catholic magazine Stimmen der Zeit, said from his office in Munich. "There is some concern that during his time in Munich there might have been some cases of abuse."

Batlogg added that "there is a moral responsibility to make this right."

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has called for direct talks with the Vatican, while Education Minister Annette Schavan said she plans to explore new ways to impose measures to stop future cases of abuse.

The German media beyond Der Spiegel is now following the story, with some journalists beginning to question how Pope Benedict, as bishop of one of the most important dioceses in Germany, could not have been aware of the allegations.

Benedict is expected to meet with Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German’s Bishops Conference, at the Vatican on Friday to discuss the investigations. German bishops are also expected to participate in a roundtable with the pope on how to stop future abuses.

"There cases have now come to Germany, to Europe," Dr. Batlogg said. "It is a very, very difficult time. Every priest will be under suspicion."