Pope Benedict XVI (second from right) meeting Ireland's bishops at the Vatican, last month. The pope faces a crisis of major proportions after victims in neighbouring Austria and the Netherlands came forward with claims of abuse, triggering charges that the pontiff is avoiding comment on the issue. Image Credit: EPA

Bad Staffelstein : A prominent archbishop yesterday called for justice for sexual abuse victims in Germany's Roman Catholic Church, saying they need to feel they can finally speak openly about their suffering.

Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, said Catholic bishops in the southern German state of Bavaria — the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI — felt "deep consternation and shame" over the reports of abuse of children in church-run schools and institutions revealed in past weeks.

"The priority is the search for the truth and achieving an open atmosphere that will give the victims courage to speak about what happened to them," Marx said, following a meeting with Bavarian bishops.

Marx said the bishops had agreed to investigate each claim and would contact authorities as appropriate.

The statements come as the German church continues to grapple with the magnitude of "abuse claims" since the first victims came forward in January, at least 300 others have said they suffered sexual or physical abuse at the hands of priests.

Crisis

Victims in neighbouring Austria and the Netherlands have also come forward with claims of abuse, triggering a crisis in the church and charges the pontiff is avoiding comment on the issue.

"If the pope himself doesn't take a stance, apologise for what Rome has committed over the past decades in terms of cover-up — then our believers will become even more disappointed than they already are," Father Udo Fischer, who heads a parish in the Lower Austrian village of Paudorf said.

"Jesus would certainly not have kept quiet," Fischer said.

Robert Zollitsch, the head of Germany's Bishops Conference, met the pontiff last week and insisted in a letter to Die Welt newspaper yesterday that the pope has repeatedly made clear his position on sexual abuse.

"I know from my discussion with the pope how deeply appalled he is by the sexual abuse of children by priests, especially in Germany," Zollitsch wrote.

Benedict spoke out repeatedly against sexual abuse during his 2008 trip to the United States.

He called the crisis then a cause of "deep shame," pledged to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from priests' "gravely immoral behaviour."

Rome (AFP) The bishop of the northern Italian city of Bolzano yesterday asked for forgiveness after victims of past child abuse in his diocese came forward in the past few days.

"In the name of our church, I can only express my most sincere regret and above all ask the victims for forgiveness on behalf of the offenders," Karl Golser said in a statement published on the diocesan website.

"Sexual abuse and violence are a great crime, especially when they involve children and youth. These acts are particularly shameful because the church presents itself with high moral standards," he said.

A man who as a teenager spent a summer in a monastery near Bolzano in the 1960s told the local press last week he had been repeatedly abused by monks in exchange for small amounts of money.

Bolzano is the capital of Alto Adige, also known as Southern Tyrol, a German-speaking province on the border with Austria, where a series of revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated on minors within religious institutions has shaken the Church since March 9.