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Catholic abuse crisis: Church hits out at critics, archbishop speaks of 'shame'

The Catholic abuse crisis swirling around the Vatican has grown this week, with a cardinal complaining about press bias and an archbishop writing of the church's 'misplaced concern about the reputation of the church.'

By Correspondent, Staff writer / April 2, 2010

Catholic abuse crisis: Pope Benedict XVI, left, meets Archbishop Robert Zollitsch in his private library at the Vatican, March 12. The archbishop wrote in an open letter on the Internet of his 'sadness and shame.'

L'Osservatore Romano/AP/File


Dublin, Ireland; and Boston

Global controversy over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests continued to mount on Friday, with the head of the church in Germany expressing "shame" over the way allegations of abuse have been handled. Many critics charge the church hierarchy failed to remove accused child molesters from the ministry.

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Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Germany wrote in an open letter on the Internet of his "sadness and shame" and of his "disappointment over the painful failure of the offenders, and that the victims weren't helped enough because of the misplaced concern about the reputation of the church. That is also a sad reality that we have to face up to."

In Germany, Ireland, Austria, the US and elsewhere, new allegations of abuse by priests over the past three decades have emerged this year along with charges that senior church officials shuffled priests around rather than defrocking them when cases of abuse emerged. Pope Benedict XVI has come in for criticism that he headed the chief church investigation authority that was extremely slow to take action against priests accused of sexual abuse, with a lengthy complex system that left accused abusers as serving priests for years.

In Germany, the case of the now deceased Father Peter Hullermann has stirred outrage. Mr. Hullermann admitted to molesting children in 1979, and was assigned to undergo psychological counseling before being assigned to work with children again under the authority of then Archbishop of Munich and Freising Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

He went on to abuse more children and was convicted of sexually abusing minors by a German court in 1986. This week, German media reported that a new allegation of abuse has been made against Hullermann, dating to 1998 when he served as a priest in Garching.

Vatican officials have said that Pope Benedict did not know of the abuse charges against Hullermann at the time he was reassigned and that the famously hands-on manager left the matter to deputies. Nevertheless, many ordinary Catholics and critics of the church say the failure of the church leadership to permanently remove Hullermann and other priests from the ministry in the phase of credible allegations demonstrates a stunning failure of moral leadership.

Three particular cases have been highlighted by critics who allege that Ratzinger was at least culpable by negligence. That of Hullermann; that of Father Lawrence Murphy, who "criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974" in the words of Cardinal William J. Levada; and that of Father Marciel Maciel, a Mexican who founded the Legionaries of Christ and who was investigated for sexual abuse in 1998 and again in 2004 by the church, when Pope Benedict was in charge of such investigations.