BERLIN (AP) — An ever-widening sexual abuse scandal involving Germany's Roman Catholic Church spilled into the heart of Pope Benedict XVI's homeland Friday when a former member of the prominent Regensburg boy's choir claimed he was a victim.
A former singer came forward with allegations church employees had sexually abused him in the early 1960s, said Clemens Neck, a spokesman for the Regensburg Diocese which oversees the school connected to the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir.
Neck gave no details on the extent of the abuse, but said it happened before the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the pope's brother, took over the choir in 1964. Ratzinger led the choir, comprised of around 500 boys and young men, until his retirement in 1994.
Ratzinger told public radio Bayerischer Rundfunk on Friday he did not know of any abuse cases at the choir and another spokesman for the diocese, Jakob Schoetz, said the known cases of abuse did not happen during Ratzinger's tenure.
"The cases that are known to us at this time did not take place during his tenure," Schoetz wrote.
The allegations by the former Domspatzen singer are part of a spiraling scandal that has grown from the claims of seven former pupils at a Catholic-run Berlin high school to more than 170 ex-students from several of the church's most prominent educational facilities in Germany, including the high school connected to the Domspatzen and the Ettal Monastery boarding school — both in the pope's home region of Bavaria.
From 1969 to 1977 the pope, then Joseph Ratzinger, taught theology at the University of Regensburg.
On Friday, the Regensburg Diocese announced it was hiring a lawyer to help it carry out a "systematic" clarification of the abuse allegations that currently range from 1958 to 1973.
"We call on all victims to contact our representative for sexual abuse cases," the dioceses said. "We would like to encourage people to come, to give a name to their suffering and, through this, to ease and eliminate the pain."
The diocese said it was seeking information regarding a report of a priest who taught religion at the high school for the Domspaten from 1953 to 1958 and was convicted of sexually abusing two students during that time. He served a two-year prison sentence for the abuse, the diocese said.
It also has leads on at least two other instances of sexual and phyiscal abuse at schools in Etterzhausen and Weiden — both in the 1960s — as well as three other cases at music schools that train boys who go on to sing in with the Domspatzen.
On Thursday, the Ettal Monastery boarding school said the Vatican had confirmed it would send an inspector to look into accusations of sexual abuse made by 20 alumni of the school.
Munich prosecutors last week opened an investigation into allegations of abuse against one member of the Benedictine-run school. The second priest who accused of sexual abuse has since died.