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Bavarian bishops pray for abuse victims

BAD STAFFELSTEIN, Germany (AP) — A prominent archbishop called Thursday for justice for sexual abuse victims in Germany's Roman Catholic Church, saying they need to feel they can finally speak openly about their suffering.

Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, said Catholic bishops in the southern German state of Bavaria — the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI — felt "deep consternation and shame" over the reports of abuse of children in church-run schools and institutions in past weeks.

"The priority is the search for the truth and achieving an open atmosphere that will give the victims courage to speak about what happened to them," Marx told reporters following a meeting with Bavarian bishops.

Marx said the bishops had agreed to investigate each claim and would contact authorities in cases where sexual or physical abuse is suspected.

The statements come as the German church continues to grapple with the magnitude of abuse claims; since the first victims came forward in January, at least 300 others have said they suffered sexual or physical abuse at the hands of priests.

In Ireland, which has been shaken by an even wider crisis over child abuse, a Catholic bishop on Thursday ordered a priest to remain silent about his views that church officials should not tell police about child abusers within the priesthood.

Bishop Dermot Clifford said Monsignor Maurice Dooley, an expert in Catholic canon law, must not speak publicly again about his understanding of the church's rules on confidentiality.

"I want to state that all concerns that come to light are reported fully and without delay to the state authorities," Clifford said.

Dooley has repeatedly spoken out in defense of Irish Cardinal Sean Brady, a former classmate and fellow canon-law expert who is facing pressure to resign because he failed to tell police about his knowledge of one of Ireland's worst pedophiles.

Victims in Austria and the Netherlands have also come forward with claims of abuse, deepening a crisis in the church and triggering charges the pontiff is avoiding comment on the issue.

"If the pope himself doesn't take a stance, apologize for what Rome has committed over the past decades in terms of cover-up — then our believers will become even more disappointed than they already are," Father Udo Fischer, who heads a parish in the Lower Austrian village of Paudorf told the ORF public broadcaster.

"Jesus would certainly not have kept quiet," Fischer said.

Robert Zollitsch, the head of Germany's Bishops Conference, met the pontiff last week and insisted in a letter Thursday to Die Welt newspaper that the pope has repeatedly made clear his position on sexual abuse.

"I know from my discussion with the pope how deeply appalled he is by the sexual abuse of children by priests, especially in Germany," Zollitsch wrote.

Benedict spoke out repeatedly against sexual abuse during his 2008 trip to the United States. He called the crisis then a cause of "deep shame," pledged to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from priests' "gravely immoral behavior."

Zollitsch noted that Benedict is the pontiff for all Catholics, not just those in Germany, and his previous statements on the issue remain valid.

"His words retain their weight, even if they are not constantly repeated," Zollitsch wrote.

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Associated Press writers Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report; Eddy reported from Berlin.