BERLIN — German prosecutors are investigating allegations that the country's top Roman Catholic cleric was responsible in the 1980s for hiring a priest known to have sexually abused minors, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The investigation of Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch is based solely on a complaint by a person who claims to have been abused, and the allegations haven't yet been scrutinized, Prosecutor Wolfgang Maier said.
Zollitsch also heads the German Bishops Conference. Archdiocese spokesman Robert Eberle rejected as baseless the allegation that he was an accessory to abuse of minors by omission.
"The archdiocese is in contact with prosecutors in Freiburg to swiftly prove the allegations' complete lack of substance," Eberle said.
The complaint alleges that, in 1987, Zollitsch – then in charge of human resources at the Freiburg diocese – was responsible for hiring a priest known to have sexually abused minors.
The archdiocese, however, says allegations of abuse dating back to the 1960s by the priest at a church in Birnau only surfaced in 2006.
Eberle added that the church belongs to the Cistercian monastery of Mehrerau and therefore doesn't fall under the archdiocese's jurisdiction. The entire responsibility for the monastery – including recruitment – lies with its abbot and not the archdiocese, he said.
The fact that the complaint was handed over to prosecutors and local newspapers at the same time suggests the complainant wanted to damage the archbishop's reputation with a media stunt, linking him to the "sensationalist allegation of accessory to sexual abuse," Eberle asserted.
The archdiocese says it informed the Cistercians when it first learned of the allegations against the priest in 2006.
New allegations that surfaced in March this year were again transferred to the order – and that led to the priest's removal from his duties in Chur, Switzerland, the archdiocese said.
As an abuse scandal rocked the church in Germany early this year – with hundreds of self described victims coming forward in the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI – Zollitsch sharply condemned sexual and physical abuse.
He also played a key role in the departure of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, who came under fire after allegations of physical abuse dating back years emerged.
In an extremely unusual move, Zollitsch publicly called on Mixa to take leave while the allegations against him were looked into; Mixa then offered his resignation to the pope, who accepted it.
The Swiss Bishops' Conference, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that 104 people have come forward this year as alleged victims of sexual abuse by church employees in the country.
People reported the abuse between January and May, but most of the allegations date from before 1990, it said. The reports claim wrongdoing by 72 church officials.
The Bishops Conference pledged to fight sex abuse of minors and vowed it would now report allegations to police when there is "legally sufficient suspicion."
Associated Press Writer Eliane Engeler in Geneva contributed to this report.