Last updated at 11:26 AM on 03rd April 2010
By Allan Hall
An abuse hotline set up by the Catholic Church in Germany melted down on its first day of operation as more than 4,000 alleged victims of paedophile and violent priests called in to seek counselling and advice.
The numbers were far more than the handful of therapists assigned to deal with them could cope with.
In the end only 162 out of 4,459 callers were given advice before the system was shut down.
Andreas Zimmer, head of the project in the Bishopric of Trier, admitted that he wasn’t prepared for “that kind of an onslaught’.
The hotline is the Church’s attempt to win back trust in the face of an escalating abuse scandal that threatens the papacy of German-born Pontiff Benedict XVI in Rome.
Earlier this week it was alleged that an ally of the Pope, Bishop Mixa, beat children – a charge he has subsequently denied.
Former girls and boys testified that he beat them with fists and a carpet beater which screaming; ‘The devil is in you and I will drive him out!’
Also, the bishopric of Trier reported that 20 priests are suspected of having sexually abused children between the 1950s and 1990s.
Bishop Stephan Ackermann, who was appointed last year, said on Monday that three of the cases had been passed on to public prosecutors, with two more soon to follow.
German media are calling the scandal ‘the hour of the children’. Silent, often for decades after pressure was applied to both them and their families by the Church, they are now finding the courage to speak out.
The effect on the Catholic Church in Germany has been profound; people are leaving in droves, de-registering with the government department that levies an annual tax of 800 pounds each on worshippers to fund it.
A quarter of Catholics in Germany said in a recent survey they had lost faith in the Church leadership.
Pope Benedict XVI allegedly knew about one particularly disturbing paedophile case in the United States.
The Rev. Lawrence Murphy spent years molesting children at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, but when the case came to the attention of the Vatican many years later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became pope, declined to take action.
The pope made no mention of the scandal during his pre-Easter mass at the Vatican yesterday.