German bishop offers to resign over abuse

BERLIN (AP) — A leading conservative Roman Catholic bishop in Germany has written to Pope Benedict XVI offering to resign amid persistent allegations of physical abuse of children and financial misconduct, the Augsburg Diocese said Thursday.

Bishop Walter Mixa wrote a letter to the pope on Wednesday, the Augsburg diocese said in a statement, offering to step down in hope of allowing a "new start" for his diocese. He said he would cooperate fully with investigators and offered an apology.

"I ask the forgiveness of all those to whom I may have been unfair and to those who I may have caused heartache," Mixa wrote, acknowledging that he was "fully aware of my own weaknesses."

The Vatican does not comment on possible resignations.

Mixa was unavailable for comment, his diocese said, adding he had "retreated for the time being."

Mixa has been accused of hitting children while a priest decades ago. He initially denied ever using violence against youngsters in a televised interview, but after intense pressure, acknowledged several weeks later that he may have slapped children years ago.

Although the case does not involve any allegations of sexual abuse, Mixa has been a key member of Germany's Bishops Conference for more than a decade and his initial denial of physical violence fueled frustration among German Catholics who saw it as fresh evidence that the church was unwilling to come clean on the issue of abuse.

"The step was long overdue. I don't understand how he could withhold it for such a long time, and I'm anxious to see what will happen to the allegations," Klaus Moeller, a resident of Augsburg, told AP Television News.

Adding to Mixa's troubles, a special investigator has found financial irregularities at a children's home under his responsibility around the same time as the allegations of abuse.

Mixa said in his letter he would support efforts for a "thorough investigation" into all the allegations.

On Wednesday, the head of Germany's national bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, urged Mixa to take leave until the allegations are cleared up. On Thursday, Zollitsch praised Mixa's decision and said the bishops' conference had accepted it.

Yet it remains to be seen whether the move will be enough to convince disillusioned Catholics that their church is trying to change. Church authorities in Augsburg say they have seen a 60 percent increase in people leaving the church since the allegations first surfaced in late March.

"It was already clear to me when he gave his first interview where he disputed he ever touched any children that things don't work this way," said Guenther Schatzelmeier, who has not left the Catholic church despite the scandals. "Somehow all these people have lost touch with reality."