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German Bishop Says Pope 'Dismayed' at Clerical Sex Abuse Scandal

Germany's top bishop briefed Pope Benedict XVI on the spiraling cases of clerical sex abuse in the pontiff's native Germany on Friday and said the pope encouraged him to pursue the truth and assist the victims.

The head of Germany's bishops, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch apologized to victims of child abuse by priests today following a meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. He said the pope encouraged him and the church in Germany to tackle the problem.

Archbishop Zollitsch said the church in his country is taking steps to counsel victims and investigate abuse allegations. He added that the pope was greatly dismayed as he was being briefed on the sex abuse scandal in his native Germany.

At least 170 former students from Catholic schools in Germany have come forward recently with claims of physical and sexual abuse, including claims from an all-boys choir once led by the pope's brother.

Archbishop Zollitsch apologized to German victims and pledged to cooperate with prosecutors.

Zollitsch says the Church in Germany wants to unveil the truth and wants an honest clearing up of this and he says even if cases are discovered that date back to tens of years ago, the victims have the right to know.

At least 19 of Germany's 27 dioceses have been affected by the scandal which follows similar cases in Ireland, The Netherlands and Austria. Vatican expert Marco Politi said the recent cases have brought the sexual abuse scandals much closer to the Vatican and to Pope Benedict himself.

"The atmosphere in the Vatican is of great nervousness, anxiety because these last facts, which happened in Germany and in Europe, are devastating," he said.

The latest sex abuse scandals have also renewed debate on priestly celibacy but Pope Benedict said Friday it is a "holy value". He told an international theological conference at a Vatican university that celibacy is an expression of the gift of oneself to God and to others.