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German church drops researcher's abuse probe

Wednesday - 1/9/2013, 9:50am  ET

BERLIN (AP) - Germany's Roman Catholic Church said Wednesday it has called off an independent institute's investigation into sexual abuse by clergy over several decades. The lead researcher complained that the church wanted too much control over his work.

In 2011, the church asked Prof. Christian Pfeiffer's Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute to analyze data on abuse from German dioceses as far back as 1945, including material from church archives.

It was part of efforts to address the scandal triggered by revelations of abuse of children and youths in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI's homeland, and elsewhere.

However, the German Bishops Conference said "mutual trust is shattered" between the bishops and Pfeiffer, and it was terminating its agreement with the institute. It said it would seek a new partner for the project, without elaborating.

Pfeiffer said that researchers and church worked well together for the first few months, but then resistance emerged, starting with a call from the Munich archdiocese for the researchers "to bow to church requests for stronger controls" on their work.

A group representing German dioceses then called for the researchers' work to be submitted for pre-publication approval, Pfeiffer told ZDF television, a demand he said was unacceptable.

A statement from Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the church's point man on combating abuse, said that Pfeiffer's "way of communication with church officials" had made "further constructive cooperation" impossible. It did not elaborate.

A group that represents abuse victims, Square Table, said the latest development shows that the church is "unable to cope" with investigating the issue. It called in a statement for a parliamentary commission of inquiry into past abuse and church failings.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was quoted as telling the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily it's important that efforts to investigate the abuse scandal do not end in "half-hearted clearing-up."

The Munich vicar general, Peter Berr, rejected talk of "censorship" and stressed the diocese's "absolute will" to investigate past abuse. But he told Sueddeutsche Zeitung it's also important to discuss how that can be reconciled with the obligation to ensure diligence and the church's responsibility toward employees.

Benedict, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.


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