Prosecutors drop German bishop probe

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Prosecutors said Wednesday they had dropped a probe against a German archbishop on suspicion of allowing a priest to be hired although he was aware of the claims the man abused a boy in the 1960s.

The prosecutor's office in the southern city of Konstanz said it had closed the case against the head of the German Bishops Conference, Robert Zollitsch, because the alleged abuse occurred outside the statute of limitations.

A complaint by the victim, who said he was abused at the Birnau Monastery in the Freiburg diocese in the 1960s, prompted the launch in June of the investigation on charges of abetting sexual abuse.

The man accused Zollitsch, who was responsible for personnel in the diocese at the time, of learning of the alleged abuse but nevertheless ensuring that the priest was employed again at Birnau in 1987.

But the Konstanz prosecutor's office said in a statement that the alleged crimes occurred too long ago to make Zollitsch legally culpable.

"Furthermore during the priest's second stay at Birnau, from 1987 to 1992, there were no cases of abuse or victims' names that came to light, which means there is no basis for a criminal case against Dr Zollitsch," it said.

"If such counts of abuse under the statute of limitations were to come to light then it would still need to be proved that Dr Zollitsch acted with intent. There is absolutely no evidence of this."

The statute of limitations for criminal cases against suspects accused of sexually abusing children is 20 years, beginning from the victim's 18th birthday.

Like other European countries, Germany has been rocked in recent months by revelations that hundreds of children were physically or sexually abused in institutions, the vast majority run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The scandal has badly damaged the standing of the Church in Germany, and also of the German-born pope, five years after his appointment as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics was a source of great national pride.

Zollitsch, 71, had met with Pope Benedict XVI in April at the Vatican about the spreading scandal.

© 2010 AFP

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