German Catholic Church to open archives on sexual abuse

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Germany's Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday said it would open its archives to independent researchers in a bid to shed light on all aspects of cases of sexual abuse by priests.

"We want to uncover the truth which might still lie, as yet undiscovered, in the archives of the past decades," Stephan Ackermann, bishop of Trier, said in a statement.

The research project is expected to take over a year.

Ackermann, who has been appointed by the Bishops' Conference to look into the scandals, said the Church would open its complete archives, which date back to the end of World War II in 1945, from nine of its dioceses.

They would also release a cross-section of documents from the other 18 dioceses dating back to 2000 to researchers.

"It's not just a question of enabling researchers to compile statistics and numbers, but to examine the causes with the help of independent experts so as to better understand how we got into this monstrous sexual abuse by priests and church workers," Ackermann said.

"We want to find out more in order to boost prevention," he added.

Since early 2010 Germany has been hit by revelations that hundreds of children were physically and sexually abused in the past in institutions, all but a handful of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The scandal, which has been repeated in several different countries, has led to a number of Catholics quitting the church.

The church has offered 5,000 euros ($7,040) in compensation to victims of child abuse, a figure dismissed as woefully inadequate by victims' representatives.

Dioceses and religious orders are also paying for the cost of therapy for victims and the church said it would set up a 500,000-euro fund to finance abuse prevention programmes.

The Church in Germany has acknowledged that in the past it failed to properly investigate claims of abuse.

It has also admitted that in some cases there was a cover-up with paedophile priests simply moved elsewhere instead of being disciplined and reported to the police.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit his native Germany from September 22 to 25, 60 years after he was ordained as a priest, in his first state trip since his election as pontiff in 2005 became a great source in national pride.

© 2011 AFP

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