Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Pope defends celibacy rule amid sex abuse scandals

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict has had to deal with sex abuse scandals in various countries

Pope Benedict XVI has defended celibacy among priests, saying it was a sign of "full devotion" to the Catholic Church.

He was speaking at a theological conference before meeting Germany's top bishop for talks about a new crisis over the sexual abuse of children.

German Bishop Robert Zollitsch apologised again to victims of abuse by German priests.

The Archbishop of Vienna had suggested that the Church should examine celibacy and priests' training.

'Honesty needed'

Europe's Catholic paedophile scandal now affects institutions in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.

In the New Testament the Apostle Peter was a married man; early Church figures were often family men while others were celibate
In the 12th Century a general council of the Church absolutely outlawed priests being married
Exceptions include Eastern-rite Catholic priests, who can be ordained if they are married
The Vatican has also admitted married clergy who converted from the Anglican faith

In Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn wrote in a diocesan magazine that "the issue of priest training, as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution" needed to be addressed.

"It also includes the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the Church and of society as a whole," he added.

But the Pope said on Friday that celibacy is "the sign of full devotion, the entire commitment to the Lord and to the 'Lord's business', an expression of giving oneself to God and to others".

He defended "the value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is... required for ordination and is held in great regard by Eastern Churches".

Cardinal Schoenborn later clarified his comments saying it would be wrong to say that celibacy was a prime cause of sexual abuse.

"If celibacy is the problem, then without celibacy there should be no sexual abuse but unfortunately this is not the case. We know about cases inside the family," he said.

"I think the problem is deeper. It has to be seen as a question of personal maturity, how someone relates to his personal development."

Watchdog praise

At the Pope's meeting with Bishop Zollitsch, details of accusations made in some 170 cases of abuse by German priests were discussed.

Norbert Denef
I felt I was in a dark place, in solitary confinement
Norbert Denef

Among the German cases are alleged abuses at a boys' choir in the 1950s and 1960s.

The choir was once run by the Pope's brother, but he has said the alleged abuse occurred before he took up his post.

Speaking after the meeting, Bishop Zollitsch reiterated an apology first offered a fortnight ago, and said a watchdog would be appointed.

Bishop Zollitsch also said the pope had praised "the steps taken by the German Bishops Conference, [including] the naming of a bishop as a special counsel".

Norbert Denef said he was abused for five years from the age of 10 by a priest, and then for a further three years by a church organist.

"Until the age of 40, I thought I was the only one who'd suffered this. I felt I was in a dark place, in solitary confinement," he told the BBC.

Mr Denef expects the scale of the scandal to grow.

"For every 10 people you hear saying they were abused, you can be sure there are another ten thousand victims staying silent."

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