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BERLIN – Two months after Germany’s Roman Catholic Church became embroiled in a sex abuse scandal, the flood of new cases, allegations and complaints has started to ebb, the church’s top investigator said Tuesday.
Though the church has not tallied the number of cases that have surfaced since the end of January, “it looks like the strongest wave is over,” Bishop Stephan Ackermann told The Associated Press.
So far, estimates put the total number of German cases at well over 250, but Ackermann said he had no way to confirm numbers, as some cases may not have reached him while others may have been counted twice.
“We haven’t counted the cases, but the letters and e-mails alone fill four large document files,” said Ackermann, who coordinates all matters for the German church concerning sexual abuse.
“Some of them are victims, but others were triggered by the reports on abuse to let off steam. They complain about the church as an authoritarian system, some also about the pope,” he said.
In Ackermann’s own Trier diocese, recent sex abuse allegations cover four decades from 1950-1990 and concern 20 priests.
Ackermann said the church would decide within a month whether to compensate victims financially, but added that the issue was tricky as the church did not want to buy itself out of its responsibility and or humiliate victims.
“The compensation has to help the victims and not just serve as a symbol,” he said.
Ackermann was named special coordinator by his German colleagues in late February, about a month after allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Berlin Canisius Kolleg school triggered the widening scandal. In recent weeks, former students of numerous other Catholic institutions came forward, including some in Bavaria – the former home of Pope Benedict XVI.
Benedict himself, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in 1980 allowed a pedophile priest to be transferred from the northwestern city of Essen to Munich, where he was archbishop at the time. The Rev. Peter Hullermann went on to work with youths again and was sentenced for sexual abuse in 1986.
The prestigious Regensburg Domspatzen boys choir once led by the pope’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, as well as the school that sends many students to the choir have also faced allegations of sexual and more general physical abuse.
On Tuesday, the Regensburg diocese said it passed to public prosecutors 14 cases of alleged physical abuse by a nun, a teacher and a student teaching assistant dating back to 1953-83. Most accusations concern the Etterzhausen school, diocese spokesman Clemens Neck said.
Georg Ratzinger was the Domspatzen choir’s director 1964-94, but wasn’t directly responsible for Etterzhausen.
Ratzinger has said he used to slap children until 1980, when physical punishment was outlawed in Bavaria. He has also said boys told him about violent punishment at Etterzhausen, but he did not act to stop it.
“We have to deeply regret what educators and church employees, who should have represented the church, did to these children,” Neck said at a news conference.
Many German Catholics have begun questioning their church, with 19 percent of Catholics polled for a survey released Tuesday saying they have thought about leaving the church because of the abuse cases, according to Stern magazine.
Only 31 percent of 1,004 people surveyed across Germany on March 24-25 said they thought Pope Benedict was doing his job well, Stern said. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.
Bishop Ackermann said the only way for the church to recover is to investigate all cases systematically and to improve sex abuse prevention. He announced a new hot line for victims who have yet to come forward, and noted victims can also get in touch with church experts online.
“We have to convey that we will not look the other way but face the bitter truth,” he said.
But in and around Trier, he said, fewer people left the church in the first three months of this year than during the same period in 2009. Since Jan. 1, 305 have left, compared with 313 leaving in the first quarter of last year.
Other German cities have seen slightly more people leave church this year than in the first three months of 2009, according to a survey done by the German news agency DAPD.
And in Munich, a total of 879 people have left both the Catholic and Lutheran churches in March alone – roughly double the usual number. But it was unclear how many were Catholics and how many Lutherans.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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