BERLIN (AP) - The head of Germany's Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement on Good Friday denouncing past failures and mistakes in the church's handling of abuse cases.
Clerics have neglected helping abuse victims by a "wrongly intended desire to protect the church's reputation," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg said on the day that Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The news about sexual and physical abuse of children by priests and other employees leaves the church with "sadness, horror and shame," the dean of the German bishops' conference said.
Zollitsch's unusually forthright statement on the church's past policy of allegedly covering up abuse cases comes amid a widespread debate about the openness of the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI on the issue.
Zollitsch condemned what he called "the appalling crimes of sexual abuse" and urged the German Catholic church to face its painful record on the handling these cases.
The church is appalled by the harm done to victims who were often unable to speak about their pain for decades, he said.
"Wounds were inflicted that are hardly curable," the bishop added.
Zollitsch urged all priests in his diocese to pray during Good Friday services for abuse victims whose bodies and souls were hurt within the church's community, to whom "great injustice was done."
Stephan Ackermann, the bishops conference's coordinator for all matters concerning sexual abuse, has asked his fellow bishops to pray for abuse victims on Good Friday.
Zollitsch stressed Good Friday could become the "renewal that we all need so urgently."
The catholic church in Germany, Pope Benedict's homeland, has been rocked by a widening abuse scandal in recent weeks.
Hundreds of cases of alleged harsh physical punishment in Catholic institutions and cases of alleged sexual abuse - most of them dating back years if not decades - have been publicized.
In 1980, Benedict himself, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, allowed a pedophile priest to be transferred from the northwestern city of Essen to undergo therapy in Munich, where he was then archbishop.
However, the Munich archdiocese says Benedict wasn't involved in a lower-ranking official's later decision to allow the priest to return to pastoral work. The Rev. Peter Hullermann went on to work with youths again and was sentenced for sexual abuse in 1986.
Germany's prestigious Regensburg Domspatzen boys choir once led by the pope's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, as well as the school that sends many students to the choir, also have faced allegations of sexual and more general physical abuse.
The bishops conference initiated a hot line for abuse victims on Tuesday. Hot line experts talked in person to 162 people the first day, the responsible church official, Andreas Zimmermann, said on Wednesday.
On Holy Thursday, cardinals across Europe used their sermons to defend Pope Benedict XVI from accusations he played a role in covering up sex abuse scandals, and an increasingly angry Vatican sought to deflect any criticism in the Western media.
The relationship between the church and the media has become increasingly bitter as the scandal buffeting the 1 billion-member church has touched the pontiff himself.
On Wednesday, the church singled out The New York Times for criticism in an unusually harsh attack. Western news organizations, including The Associated Press, have reported extensively on the burgeoning scandal, and new details have emerged on an almost daily basis.
In Italy on Thursday, Benedict first celebrated a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica dedicated to the union between the pope and the world's priests.
In the late afternoon, he washed the feet of 12 priests in a ceremony symbolizing humility and commemorating Christ's Last Supper with his 12 apostles on the evening before his Good Friday crucifixion.
Although there were expectations by some that the pope would address the crisis, Benedict made no reference to the scandal at either ceremony.
Venice's Cardinal Angelo Scola expressed solidarity with Benedict in his Holy Thursday homily in the lagoon city, describing him as a victim of "deceitful accusations." He praised the pope as seeking to remove all "dirt" from the priesthood.