Video: German Catholics renounce faith in record numbers

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    >> robert bazell , new york.

    >>> we turn now to the continuing and spreading crisis in the catholic church . with easter just days away , a spoeshgs person for the pope views the latest sex scandal for the pope a test for him and the church. one church in germany , the hope pope himself is under intense criticism for how sexual abuse allegations against priests were handled on his watch through decades ago. our report tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk.

    >> reporter: in bovaria, the catholic heart of germany , the church is in crisis. the municipal office of munich sees it every day. disenchanted abandoning their faith. germans have to notify the government when they abandon their religion. the numbers leaving the church have tripled. this woman told me.

    >> translator: handed over our children with trust. they were abused." church officials acknowledge that people feel betrayed.

    >> translator: we need to work through this crisis with a poll sieve transparency. we want every victim to come forward.

    >> reporter: the latest effort is a victims' hotline. since it started on tuesday, 1,000 callers phoned in.

    >> we want the victims to come us to straight away. people reporting shocks me.

    >> reporter: shock is a common reaction rippling across the country, especially in the town where reverend peter hollerman, a convicted pedophile was transferred in the late '80s. hollerman served as priest in this church 20 years. when he arrived, no one was told in his previous post he was sexually molesting children. it wasn't until earlier this month parishioners learned the truth.

    >> translator: they placed a pedophile priest in the community without telling anyone, like some experiment to see if he was cured or not.

    >> reporter: the mishandling of the case goes back to 1979 . pope benedict , an archbishop at the time approved his transfer to munich for counseling. days later the priest was returned to parish work. the vatican says the pope was not involved in that decision. the current archbishop of munich addresses the mistakes of the past in nearly every sermon. and at mass tonight he spoke directly to the priests. "you will have to work hard," he told them, "to restore trust. trust in some cases that will never be learned again." stephanie gosk, nbc news, munich , germany .

    >>> when we continue tonight, socks

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updated 3/31/2010 1:42:18 PM ET 2010-03-31T17:42:18

Swiss bishops urge victims of clerical abuse to file criminal complaints and are considering creating a national registry for pedophile priests. Danish bishops launch an investigation into decades-old claims. Austria's senior bishop celebrates a Holy Week Mass of repentance.

A week after Pope Benedict XVI excoriated Irish bishops for gross errors of judgment in handling cases of priests who sexually abuse children, European bishops are admitting to mistakes, reaching out to victims and promising to act quickly when they learn about abuse cases.

Their mea culpas and pledges to be more transparent and cooperative in the future come amid mounting public outrage over the scope of the abuse and what victims say has been a pattern of coverup by bishops and the Vatican itself to keep the cases quiet.

"It's about improving things," Swiss Bishops Conference spokesman Walter Mueller said Wednesday, as Swiss bishops admitted in a statement that they had underestimated the problem and are now telling victims to consider filing criminal complaints.

‘Sign of repentance’
In Austria, Cardinal Christophe Schoenborn was to celebrate a Holy Week Mass on Wednesday evening for abuse victims in what is being billed as a "sign of repentance" just days before Easter.

Schoenborn was named Vienna archbishop in 1995, tasked to clean up the mess in the diocese after Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to resign as archbishop over allegations he molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.

Several years later, the church was again rocked by the discovery of up to 40,000 lurid images at a seminary in St. Poelten, 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Vienna, including child porn and photos of young candidates for the priesthood fondling each other and their older religious instructors.

Amid renewed outrage over Europe's sexual abuse scandals, Schoenborn announced over the weekend the creation of an independent, clergy-free commission headed by a woman to suggest ways to strengthen church guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse.

Switzerland, home of the Swiss Guard who protect the pope at the Vatican, is considering the radical idea of creating a central registry of pedophile priests to prevent them from coming into contact with children.

Swiss President Doris Leuthard has come out in favor of the proposal; the president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, Norbert Brunner, has said he doesn't see the point. Swiss bishops are split.

Automatic reporting requirements
And both Switzerland and Germany are considering mandatory, or automatic reporting requirements for bishops. In Switzerland, priests aren't required by national law to inform police of possible sexual abuse cases. This is only required of civil servants such as teachers, professors, and policemen.

In February, German bishops announced they would revise their 2002 guidelines, which say that officials are advised to contact law enforcement on their own if there are "proven cases" of abuse by priests.

The Bavarian bishops are lobbying for an automatic relay of all suspected abuse cases to public prosecutors to be included in the new guidelines, which are expected by summer. Not all German bishops agree.

Elsewhere, the Catholic Church in Denmark announced it would launch an investigation next week into claims of clerical abuse dating back several decades. The move comes after the church came under pressure from media and human rights groups to revisit allegations of sexual abuse that had not been reported to police.

And Italy's bishops vowed this week to cooperate with civil authorities.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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