Vatican Faces Widening Sex Abuse Scandals

AOL News/March 9, 2010

Sexual abuse scandals mired the Catholic Church on Tuesday as inquiries in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands intensified and the Vatican digested allegations that the Mexican founder of one of the church's most favored sects sexually molested his illegitimate sons.

The new revelations come less than a month after Irish bishops were summoned to the Vatican to discuss decades of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland.

A delegation of German bishops is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday about the growing crisis in Germany, where more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools.

Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Georg Ratzinger, who led a prestigious German choir, told a Catholic newspaper he often slapped choirboys, but denied knowing about alleged sexual abuse within the choir. Here, Pope Benedict, right, walks with his brother in Regensburg, Germany.

The most explosive claims center on a prestigious choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen, that was led for 30 years by Pope Benedict's brother, Georg Ratzinger. Several former singers in the choir have come forward with claims that at least two priests attached to the elementary boarding school allied to the choir sexually abused and brutally mistreated their charges.

Ratzinger, 86, gave an unusually frank interview to the Catholic newspaper, Passauer Neue Presse, about his habit of slapping choirboys, but he denied any knowledge of sexual abuse.

"I myself handed out slaps repeatedly, although I always had a bad conscience about it," he told the newspaper. Ratzinger, the pope's older brother by four years, said the choir was a "joy" to conduct but admitted that he resorted to hitting boys around the ears as part of the "discipline and rigor" needed to achieve a high artistic level.

Ratzinger called the corporal punishment "a standard response to failure or misbehavior."

He said the school's headmaster, identified in the German press as the late Johann Meier, was "very violent." Former students have said the headmaster was a "sadist" who imposed a "reign of terror" on the school. Some have also said they found it implausible that Ratzinger did not know about the sexual abuse of some students.

"These things were never discussed," Ratzinger told the newspaper. "The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of."

Accusations of clerical sexual abuse in Germany surfaced in January when a Jesuit school in Berlin said that two of its priests had sexually abused pupils in the 1970s and 1980s. More victims have since come forward alleging abuse by priests in other German schools. The scandal is front-page news in German newspapers, fed continually by new allegations and political reaction.

To make matters worse for the Vatican, the Austrian head of a Benedictine monastery has resigned after admitting to sexually abusing a child decades ago, and Dutch Catholic bishops on Tuesday said they were conducting an investigation into widespread reports of sexual abuse by priests.

The Dutch probe will be headed up by a Protestant who is a former government minister and former mayor of the Hague. More than 200 reports of sexual abuse have been filed with a church victims' support group in the wake of allegations first reported last month of clerical sexual abuse in a single Dutch cloister.

"It is a painful conclusion and a sin that must be confessed that a number of priests and church workers have failed to carefully associate with children and youths, particularly halfway through the last century," the Dutch Priests' Conference said in a statement.

While the crisis grew this week in Europe, the church was rocked by new allegations involving the already-tarnished founder of the Legionaries of Christ, an ultraconservative and controversial sect that is among the most lucrative Roman Catholic orders in the world.

The late Rev. Marcial Maciel, who founded the order in 1941 and died in 2008, had already been disciplined by Pope Benedict prior to his death and told to renounce public ministry.

The Vatican has been investigating allegations by seminarians that Maciel sexually abused them in past decades. Church officials also were forced to acknowledge last year that Maciel fathered a daughter who lives in Spain.

A woman, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, has recently accused the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, here in 2005, of fathering two children with her and adopting a third.

The most recent accusations against Maciel involve a woman, Blanca Lara Gutierrez, who told officials she had a long relationship with a man she knew as an "employee of an international oil company, a private investigator and a CIA agent" before she found out his true identity.

She said Maciel fathered two sons with her and adopted a third. Two of the sons said Maciel molested them as children. The case grew more complicated Tuesday when the attorney representing the family resigned when it became known that one of the sons had asked the Legionaries of Christ for $26 million in return for his silence.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ in North America, said Tuesday that the order is still reeling from the allegations against the founder.

"We are still in those five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross," Fair told AOL News. "It's as if Father Maciel lived in two different universes, like some old science fiction movie. And now it's all blowing up."

Fair said that Legionaries priests and lay members "have a tough row to hoe" with their faith but added that that the priests are "first and foremost Roman Catholic priests and they are part of a church that has survived 2,000 years with some flaws and will no doubt continue."

Fair said Maciel was clearly a "very flawed man" who nevertheless did "a lot of good."

According to Fair, the order has more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians worldwide, along with 50,000 members of the associated lay group Regnum Christi.

Church critics have pointed out that after years of turning what many call "a blind eye" toward clerical sexual abuse, the Vatican is now in what can only be described as crisis management mode.

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