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Pope's brother oblivious to choir sexual abuse

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A file photo of the Odenwaldschule. Photo: DPA
08:32 CET+01:00
Pope Benedict XVI's brother told an Italian newspaper over the weekend he was never aware of sexual abuse in the famous boys choir in Regensburg that he headed for nearly three decades.

"I never knew anything," Georg Ratzinger told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "The incidents that are being talked about go back 50 or 60 years to the 1950s. It was another generation than when I was there."

"It's also another generation than (the one) that currently leads the foundation and the choir," he added.

The director and composer Franz Wittenbrink, a former pupil of the boarding school attached to the Domspatzen (Cathedral Sparrows) choir, has spoken of an "ingenious system of sadistic punishments connected to sexual pleasure" at the school.

In comments published in Monday's edition of Der Spiegel news weekly, he accused a former head of the school of "taking two or three boys into his room in the evenings," giving them wine and masturbating with them.

Wittenbrink told the magazine it was well known what went on at the school, and he "could not understand how the pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, who was master of the chapel from 1964, could not have been aware."

The Domspatzen allegations are part of a widening sex scandal rocking Germany's Roman Catholic Church, which includes allegations of abuse at a number of institutions, including a monastic school in the southern town of Ettal.

Asked about the impact of the scandals, Ratzinger, who is a bishop, voiced concern about a "certain animosity towards the Church" as well as feelings of "resentment and hostility."

"It seems to me that behind these affirmations there is clear intention to speak against the Church," he said in reference to the string of recent revelations in the German press. He told the newspaper that he was "entirely ready" to appear before a court if authorities considered it necessary.

According to La Repubblica and other media, Ratzinger spoke about the scandal with his brother, Pope Benedict XVI, during a recent visit to Rome.

Meanwhile Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that a "wall of silence" was particularly prevalent at Catholic-run schools because of a 2001 Church directive that cases of abuse be "subject to papal confidentiality."

This meant that allegations of abuse "were not supposed to go outside the Church but instead were meant to be investigated internally," the minister told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Stephan Ackermann, the bishop of Trier, who has been put in charge of investigating abuse by the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, rejected this, saying that common Church practice was for state authorities to investigate.

None of the priests concerned is expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago. At present cases can only be pursued for 20 years after a victim turns 18.

But the expanding scandal at Catholic institutions and new revelations about sexual abuse at a progressive boarding school over the weekend sparked calls from German politicians to extend the statute of limitations for such crimes.

Education Minister Annette Schavan from the Christian Democrats called current laws in question on Sunday. Her doubts about the current legal situation were echoed by Ralf Stegner, the leader of the Social Democrats in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

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“It must be possible keep the unreported cases to a minimum and break the decades of silence,” Stegner told daily Hamburger Abendblatt, adding that statute of limitation rules should be reviewed.

Over the weekend, media reports revealed that between 50 and 100 pupils at the progressive Odenwaldschule private boarding school in Hesse were regularly sexually abused. The news follows a series of revelations about abuse in Catholic schools in Germany, many of which have been deemed beyond court jurisdiction because they occurred decades ago.

However Justice Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger rejected the calls for the statute of limitations to be changed or even scrapped altogether in cases of child abuse.

"I don't think this would be a silver bullet," she said.

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