Wednesday, May 5, 2010

German priest faces abuse claims in SA and at home

Last updated May 5, 2010 8:32 a.m. PT

German priest faces abuse claims in SA and at home
By VERENA SCHMITT-ROSCHMANN AND KATHARINE HOURELD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

BERLIN -- A German priest on trial for sexual abuse in South Africa acknowledged this week that similar charges against him in his home country are "correct in many points," his old diocese in Aachen said Wednesday.

Diocese spokesman Franz Kretschmann told The Associated Press that the priest had written a letter Tuesday to the Krefeld public prosecutors acknowledging "his guilt" and seeking forgiveness for the pain he caused to victims and their families.

He said the diocese knows of one man who came forward in January saying his son was sexually abused as a boy by the priest who worked in Germany 1994-2007 before leaving for South Africa.

The Krefeld prosecutors' office confirmed they had received the faxed letter from the priest, but spokesman Klaus Schreiber said it was "rather vague" on which allegations the priest had admitted to.

He also said that, for now, it is unclear what the priest could be charged with and how many people have come forward with claims of sexual abuse.

"Our investigation is in a very early stage," he said. "But to my knowledge there are several possible victims."

The diocese and prosecutors have identified the 51-year-old man only as "K." in line with German legal requirements.

According to South African media reports, the priest stands accused in South Africa of indecently assaulting a pair of boys, then aged 9 and 10, by crawling into bed with them at the First Holy Communion camp in Hartbeespoort in February 2008.

He has pleaded not guilty and declined to comment on the charges. Efforts by the AP to confirm details of the case in South Africa or to reach the priest or his lawyers have been unsuccessful.

The Rev. Chris Townsend of the South African Bishops Conference did not comment on the priest's case but said that any such claims are taken seriously, investigated and dealt with.

The Aachen diocese in Germany said the priest wrote in his fax to the prosecutors that he would plead not guilty in his South African trial which is to continue in June.

Kretschmann told the AP the diocese was not aware of abuse allegations against the priest before he was allowed to move to South Africa of his own volition in 2007.

However, there was an anonymous tip in 2003 that the priest had taken boys to a sauna with him, Kretschmann said. "Because it was anonymous, it could not be followed up," he said.

Nonetheless a church official spoke to the priest and told him that taking youths to a sauna was inappropriate. "After that, the diocese had no indication that there were more visits to the sauna," Kretschmann said.

The diocese was alerted to the German allegations against the man late in 2009 by the private group Initiative against Violence and Sexual Abuse of Children and Youths which was investigating the case, he said.

All congregations were asked in a letter dated Dec. 17, 2009, to report possible incidents involving the man, Kretschmann said.

Johannes Heibel of the Initiative against Violence told AP he had started investigating the case after he learned of allegations in South Africa and knows of "more than two" alleged victims in Germany.

One them, identified only as "Christopher," told German newsweekly Der Spiegel that the priest had plied him with drugs and alcohol when he was 12 years old. He said the priest then carried him to his home where he allegedly undressed him and sexually abused him.

"Christopher" was also quoted by the magazine as saying the priest's computer was full of child pornography and the priest himself made photos and videos of sexual acts.

Nina Schmedding, a spokeswoman for the German Bishops Conference, told the AP the Conference had no information regarding allegations of abuse involving the priest at the time of his transfer abroad.

Schmedding said the priest's contract for South Africa was originally through 2012, but that he was suspended in May 2008.

He is not allowed to carry out any pastoral duties and has been moved to Cape Town to guarantee that he has no further contact with the victims or their parents, she said.

His passport was confiscated and he's not allowed to leave the country until his trial is concluded, she said.

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Houreld reported from Johannesburg, South Africa and Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report.

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