Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday accepted the resignation of a German bishop who admitted he beat children in a Catholic orphanage and also faces a pedophilia probe, the Vatican said.
Walter Mixa, 69, had tendered his resignation as bishop of Augsburg and military bishop on Thursday.
The pope “has accepted the renunciation of the pastoral government of the Augsburg diocese submitted by Walter Mixa”, a Vatican statement said.
Benedict accepted the resignation, less than five years after appointing him, under a code of canon law that allows the retirement of priests before the legal age of 75 due to “illness” or unspecified “other serious reasons”, it said.
The pope acted the day after German prosecutors said they were also probing pedophilia claims against Mixa, following media reports that he had been accused of sexually abusing a boy while bishop of Eichstaett between 1996 and 2005.
The German weekly Focus said Saturday the pope had been told by senior German clergy of the sexual abuse allegations against Mixa before he resigned.
Mixa, who has reportedly retired to a clinic in Switzerland, at first rebuffed allegations that he beat children and youths at the Schrobenhausen orphanage between 1975 and 1996 in the face of several sworn statements from his accusers.
But he tendered his resignation to Benedict after admitting giving youngsters in his care “a slap in the face or two”, which he said was “completely normal back then”.
The head of the Catholic Church in Germany, Robert Zollitsch, said, “The pope’s rapid decision allows for necessary clarity. It gives all parties involved an opportunity for renewal.”
Zollitsch, who is archbishop of Freiburg and president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said “the loss of credibility is weighing heavily” on Germany’s Catholic Church, but added he was confident authorities would be able to shed light on the various accusations.
Along with other European countries and the United States, the pope’s native Germany has been rocked by revelations that children were physically and sexually abused in institutions, the vast majority run by the Roman Catholic Church.
Most of the alleged abuse took place too long ago for authorities to be able to bring criminal proceedings but there have been calls to extend the statute of limitations.
The cases have badly damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, and also of the pope, whose appointment five years ago as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics was a source of great national pride.
The Augsburger Allgemeine daily cited a lawyer for Mixa, long known as a hardliner who in February blamed sexual abuse of children by priests in part on “the so-called sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 70s, as rejecting the latest accusations.
Mixa also caused controversy with statements that compared abortion to the Holocaust, while slamming homosexuality and accusing Chancellor Angela Schroeder’s Christian Democrat government of “degrading women to birth machines” for allowing mothers to return to their work places shortly after giving birth.
The diocese of Augsburg said it had alerted prosecutors to the accusations in line with new German Bishops’ Conference guidelines following sharp criticism that the Catholic Church had not done enough to investigate in the past.
Mixa’s lawyer Gerhard Decker told the n-tv television station Saturday that his client rejected the latest allegations but was prepared to cooperate with investigators.
Critical Catholic lay movement We Are The Church said it was relieved that the pope accepted Mixa’s resignation.
If the Catholic Church is to effectively fight a loss of trust “full light must be shed as quickly as possible on all accusations”, it said in a statement.
The Mixa case as well as resignations in other countries over the last years “raises more and more urgent questions about how bishops are chosen”, it added.
Quoting sources close to the Catholic Church Der Spiegel news magazine meanwhile said Mixa was known by insiders to have been homosexual and to have been popular with young seminarians.
Spiegel’s online site said in a comment Mixa passed from being “the pope’s darling to pariah”, adding that he represented “a Church as the pope wanted it. A fundamentalist, a hardliner, a traditionalist”.
The pope has accepted a number of resignations by high-ranking clergy over the past weeks.
On April 23 Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe quit his post after admitting sexually abusing a boy, the first such high-level resignation as more pedophilia revelations from the Church came to light.
Vangheluwe, 73, had taken up his post as bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges 25 years ago.
Benedict met with Belgian Church officials Saturday, broaching the Vangheluwe case only briefly, Belgian Catholic Church leader Andre-Joseph Leonard said.
But the Vatican said the visit was a “fortunate opportunity to strengthen” the ties between Belgium’s Catholic community and the rest of the Church.
Earlier in April, Georg Mueller, a German-born former Catholic bishop in Norway, admitted sexually abusing a minor 20 years ago.
However, he had already stepped down last year, officially because he was unsuited for the work.
Also in April Irish bishop James Moriarty, 73, apologised to the victims of clerical child abuse, after his resignation was formally accepted by the pope, admitting he should have challenged a culture of secrecy.