Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch met with Pope Benedict on Friday to speak of the revelations of sexual abuse against minors and measures being taken to investigate and prevent further occurrences. Pope Benedict, he said in a press conference afterward, expressed his "full support" for the steps put in place by the bishops' conference to respond to abuses.
Archbishop Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops' Conference, hosted a press conference at the Teutonic College in the Vatican after the papal audience. There, he told reporters about the content of his meeting with the Holy Father which he had come from directly.
Archbishop Zollitsch said that he had informed the Pope further about the abuses that had come to light in recent weeks. The Pope, he added, listened to his account with "great dismay, attentive interest and deep emotion." The fundamental theme of the meeting was the Feb. 25 statement devised in the Spring Plenary Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, where the bishops laid out a plan for addressing the issue.
The bishops established a four point plan to reveal the truth, appraise current guidelines for dealing with abuses, intensify prevention measures and appoint individuals to positions of oversight and responsibility.
The archbishop said he discussed these measures with the Pope, who in turn told him they should continue with these measures, as they are "decisive" and "courageous."
"We need to bring the truth to light" out of respect for the victims, even if they are facts that took place decades ago,” said Archbishop Zollitsch.
The episcopal conference, he added, is discussing new procedural measures, based on those used in Austria, for abusive priests. Besides these punitive measures, he pointed out, they foresee health-related, therapeutic or pastoral assistance for the victims and their families.
In each diocese, he revealed, there will be "contact people" to turn to for assistance and he expressed the desire of the Catholic Church in Germany to have contact with educators from schools and people involved in youth activities to develop a means of preventing future cases.
Furthermore, the president of the bishops' conference announced that on April 23, 2010 there will be a "round table" meeting organized by the Ministers of the Family and of Education to bring together everyone involved, including the families and religious to speak of the sexual abuses and possible preventive measures.
Members of the German Bishops' Conference will be in attendance at this conference, he said.
The archbishop also expressed the intention of the Church to collaborate with state justice authorities to investigate and punish those who have committed the crimes. He explained that the Church always collaborates with state justice, except in cases where the victim decides against it.
Church procedure, he added, does not put any obstacles in the way of state proceedings, they are independent of each other.
Explaining further the contents of his meeting with the Pope, which lasted between 40 and 45 minutes, he said that the Holy Father had approved of the decision to select a bishop to oversee the process of investigating possible abuses, and had additionally approved of the individual to which the job has been entrusted, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier.
German clergy are prepared to accept responsibility for confirmed abuses within the Church, said the archbishop, who used the occasion to once again ask forgiveness on behalf of the episcopal conference of Germany.
Archbishop Zollitsch said he was "thankful" that Pope Benedict has lent his support to the plan of the bishops.
The Pope, he said, "gives us the courage to seek the truth."
The archbishop added that he was "confident that we will be able to continue on our path to heal the wounds of the past and possibly avoid wounds in the future."
In his comments to reporters, the president of the German Bishops' Conference said he knew too little to say anything about Msgr. Georg Ratzinger—the Pope's brother—and the cases from the Diocese of Regensburg.
He also reiterated the words from the German bishops' statement that the abuses have nothing to do with the vow of celibacy. The statement says that being "a celibate priest can only be promised by those who have the necessary human and emotional maturity for this."