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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Pope's brother admits slapping pupils in 1960s


VATICAN CITY - Church abuse scandals in Germany have reached the older brother of Pope Benedict XVI and are creeping ever closer to the Pontiff himself.

While there has been no suggestion of wrongdoing by Pope Benedict, the launch of an inquiry by German Catholic officials after his brother admitted he slapped children years ago is stirring Vatican fears of a major crisis for the papacy.

Pope Benedict, 82, was archbishop of Munich from 1977 until 1982, when he was brought to the Vatican to head the body responsible for investigating abuse cases. During that time, he came under criticism for decreeing that even the most serious abuse cases must first be investigated internally.

Since then, Pope Benedict has taken a strong stand against abuse by clerics in the Roman Catholic Church.

Weeks before he became Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger caused a stir when he denounced "filth" in the church and among priests - a condemnation taken as a reference to clerical sex abuse.

German church officials said yesterday they would examine what - if anything - Pope Benedict knew about abuse during his time as archbishop of Munich.

Karl Juesten, the liaison between Roman Catholic bishops and the German government, said the German Bishops Conference had asked parishes and church institutions in the country to examine all allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

Separately, the Regensburg Diocese said it will investigate allegations of physical and sexual abuse that have swirled around a renowned choir led by Pope Benedict's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. The sex abuse allegations predate Father Ratzinger's term as choir director.

Father Ratzinger, 86, said in a newspaper interview Tuesday that he slapped pupils as punishment after he took over the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir in the 1964.

The slapping of students and other forms of corporal punishment were common in Catholic schools in Germany and other countries in that era. Such punishment was later banned.

Vatican officials have been unable to hide alarm about implications for the papacy. "There is certainly the suspicion that there are some out there out to damage the church and the Pope," said a Vatican official, speaking anonymously.

The Vatican has spoken up several times in recent days to defend the church as having acted "promptly and decisively" regarding the German abuse scandal.

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