Page last updated at 18:01 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Vatican accused over German sex abuse allegations

Protesters in the southern German city of Freiburg, 22 February 2010
The sex abuse allegations have drawn protests in Germany

Germany's justice minister has criticised the Vatican for what she called a "wall of silence" over recently-emerged abuse allegations.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Vatican secrecy rules were complicating investigations of the cases.

Allegations of sexual abuse are being investigated in 18 of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses.

Former students from a number of Catholic schools have alleged sexual abuse by teachers.

Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger referred to a Vatican rule dating to 2001 that requires abuse cases to be investigated internally.

Papal meeting

She expressed dismay at the fact that prosecutors were not called in "as soon as possible".

Allegations of abuse in Germany first emerged in January at the Jesuit-run Canisius College in Berlin, and former pupils at other schools have subsequently come forward.

Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer in a church choir that was run by Pope Benedict XVI's brother, the Reverend Georg Ratzinger, from 1964-1993, had alleged there was abuse there in the early 1960s.

Father Ratzinger has been quoted as saying the allegations dated from before his tenure.

The head of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who has apologised for cases of abuse, is due to discuss the scandal with the Pope later this week.

The cases have led to a discussion over whether to alter Germany's statute of limitations to allow for the prosecution of priests.

The German scandal comes after the Pope led talks last month with Irish bishops over allegations of abuse at schools, orphanages and other institutions in Ireland over several decades.

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