The pope's brother said in a newspaper interview published Tuesday that he slapped pupils as punishment after he took over a renowned German boys' choir in the 1960s, the Associated Press reports. He also said he was aware of allegations of physical abuse at an elementary school linked to the choir but did nothing about it.
The Rev. Georg Ratzinger, 86, said he was completely unaware of allegations of sexual abuse at the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir, part of a string of charges of sex abuse by church employees across Europe in recent days, the AP reports.
Responding to accusations that its policies encouraged silence about the problem, the Vatican said that the sexual abuse scandals in Germany and other countries were cause for anguish but its response has been prompt and transparent
The scandal sweeping church institutions in many European countries kept widening Tuesday.
In Austria, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.
The German abuse allegations are particularly sensitive because Germany is the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI and because the scandals involve the prestigious choir that was led by Georg Ratzinger from 1964 till 1994.Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s. And across Germany, more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools.
Ratzinger has repeatedly said the sexual abuse allegations date from before his tenure as choir director. Asked in the interview Tuesday whether he knew of them, Ratzinger insisted he was not aware of the problem.
"These things were never discussed," Ratzinger told Tuesday's Passauer Neue Presse German daily. "The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of."
Jakob Schoetz, a spokesman for the Regensburg diocese, told The Associated Press that Ratzinger would not comment further on the issue.
There have also been reports of severe beatings by administrators at two primary feeder schools for the choir, one in Etterzhausen and one in Peilenhofen. One director, identified as Johann M., who headed the Etterzhausen school from 1953-1992, has been cited in several allegations as being particularly abusive.
Ratzinger said boys would open up to him about being mistreated in Etterzhausen.
"But I did not have the feeling at the time that I should do something about it. Had I known with what exaggerated fierceness he was acting, I would have said something," he was quoted as saying by the German paper.
"Of course, today one condemns such actions," Ratzinger said. "I do as well. At the same time, I ask the victims for pardon."
He said he had administered corporal punishment himself.
"At the beginning I also repeatedly administered a slap in the face, but always had a bad conscience about it," Ratzinger said, adding that he was happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980.