German prosecutors have opened an investigation against a Roman Catholic priest who has been accused of sexually abusing teen-age boys, a spokesman said Monday.
Following a report of the allegations in the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, church officials in the western diocese of Mainz said Sunday they had suspended the priest pending the outcome of an internal investigation and informed prosecutors.
Ger Neuber, a spokesman for the state prosecutors’ office in Darmstadt, said authorities opened their own investigation after being told of the case by the diocese at the end of last week.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the Bishop of Mainz, said he was “very disturbed” by the report that the priest, identified by Der Spiegel as Norbert E., 47, had sexually abused a boy starting in 1988, when he was a 14-year-old server in his parish, and subsequently had faced similar allegations.
Lehmann, in a statement Sunday, pledged to “investigate this report swiftly and intensively and will not shy away from taking the appropriate steps if necessary.”
His diocese said in a statement Monday that it informed prosecutors “immediately after the first suspicions became known.”
Der Spiegel reported that the priest had been summoned in 1999 by the diocese’s personnel chief for “discreet talks” on allegations of sexual misconduct but no action was taken after he denied them. Suspicions surfaced again after he was transferred in 2000, and also were denied, it added.
In April, Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops agreed to study the need for new guidelines on handling clergy sex abuse of minors after a spate of scandals in several countries, but insisted that several cases discovered in Germany do not indicate a widespread problem.
Lehmann said Sunday measures would be approved by an assembly in September of the German Bishops’ Conference, which he heads.
“We should ask ourselves self-critically whether we should not proceed even more vigorously,” he added.
No major sex-abuse scandal has hit the German church even as such cases reached to the highest levels of the clergy in countries such as the United States, Poland and others.