German priest ordered home from US in abuse case

BERLIN (AP) — A German priest has been suspended and ordered home from a posting in the U.S. as he faces allegations he sexually abused teenage girls in Germany two decades ago, church authorities said Tuesday.

The Roman Catholic diocese of Mainz in southwestern Germany said it had informed prosecutors in Darmstadt of the abuse allegations. It gave little detail but said there was no suggestion that he sexually abused children under the age of 14.

The priest has most recently been working at the German Catholic Mission in Washington, D.C., pastoring to Germans there. Church authorities didn't identify him.

The Mainz diocese and the German bishops conference said in a joint statement the suspended priest is suspected of "having had sexual relations in the late 80s and early 90s with female youths and young women who had confided to him in his capacity as a pastor."

One person reported abuse to the Schoenstatt Institute of Diocesan Priests, to which the priest belongs, for help as early as 2004, the statement said.

But the Schoenstatt Institute leadership at the time did not inform the diocese, the statement said.

Instead, the group — citing a previous relationship between the priest and a woman — asked the bishop of Mainz to grant him "time to reflect" and proposed that he be sent abroad, it added.

"They should have gone to the diocese" with the allegations, diocese spokesman Tobias Blum told The Associated Press. "If we had known about it, we would never have sent him abroad."

A spokeswoman for the Schoenstatt Institute, Kornelia Fisch, told AP the group was still trying to find out what exactly happened in 2004.

She could not immediately say how the allegations came up again now, what exactly the priest is accused of and how many alleged victims might be involved.

"It is our interest to fully clear up these things," Fisch said.

She said the Schoenstatt Institute has been in touch with its branch in Washington but no allegations were known there.

Blum said the priest is back in Germany but did not disclose details.

The Schoenstatt Institute had informed the diocese on March 30, according to the statement.

Blum could not immediately say why the statement was issued three weeks later.

Separately, a prominent German bishop accused of physical abuse of children decades ago and of financial misconduct on Tuesday offered an apology.

"I am pained in my heart and sorry for causing many people grief," Bishop Walter Mixa said in a statement without specifying what he meant.

The statement comes after Mixa met with the priest council in his Augsburg diocese in southern Germany. It said the council "shares the concern of many about the credibility of our church."

Mixa initially denied he had ever used any kind of violence against youngsters but later acknowledged he may have slapped children. A special investigator has also said there were financial irregularities at a children's home under Mixa's responsibility.