German court drops investigation into Catholic bishop

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Reuters Africa

Thu Jul 22, 2010 9:19am GMT

BERLIN (Reuters) – Public prosecutors have dropped an investigation into allegations that the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany aided and abetted a priest known to have abused children by letting him get a new parish job.

The prosecutors’ office in Konstanz in southwest Germany said in a statement issued late on Wednesday there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference.

An unidentified abuse victim had accused the 71-year-old archbishop of letting a priest in Birnau on Lake Constance, who was accused of child abuse in the 1960s, be reappointed to a parish job there in 1987.

“Since no concrete abuse cases or victims’ names have come to light from the priest’s second period in Birnau from 1987 to 1992, there are no grounds for holding Dr Zollitsch criminally responsible,” said the prosecutors office in a statement.

Neither was there any evidence that the archbishop, who was head of Church personnel in the area at the time, acted in the knowledge that the priest might commit new offences, it said.

The Church in Freiburg responded to the charges back in June by accusing the prosecutors and media of “sensationalism.” It said the reappointment was not his responsibility but a decision taken independently by the priest’s order, the Cistercians.

Dropping the charges will come as a relief to the Catholic Church, which faces a rash of accusations of sexual and physical abuse across Europe, the United States and beyond, sparking one of the Vatican’s worst internal crises in modern history.

Pope Benedict has been accused of turning a blind eye to an abuse case in 1980 in his native Germany and some U.S. victims’ lawyers want the pontiff to stand witness, in attempts to demonstrate negligence by the Vatican.

One German bishop, Walter Mixa of Augsburg, has had to resign because of accusations against him and bishops and senior churchmen have also quit in Belgium and Ireland.

The Bavarian-born pope’s brother has been accused of physical abuse and Zollitsch had to apologise in a separate case for failing to report a suspected abuse case to prosecutors.

(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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