Video: German Catholics renounce faith in record numbers

  1. Closed captioning of: German Catholics renounce faith in record numbers

    >> 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

By Associated Press Writer
updated 3/31/2010 4:15:10 PM ET 2010-03-31T20:15:10

Italy's foreign minister has rushed to Pope Benedict XVI's defense, while Italian newspapers labeled foreign media reports as "attacks" for questioning what the pontiff might have known about pedophile clergy.

Europe has been rocked in recent months by a flood of allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, leading some rank-and-file Catholics to question the traditional chummy relationship between the Vatican and Italian institutions.

"There is too much bad-mouthing of the church and of the pope," Santina Giacomini said in her dry-cleaning shop, where Vatican priests' cassocks hung from the racks. "On the other hand, everything you hear about the scandal makes you think" about the Vatican's role in the abuse.

Even a top Vatican official has complained that a "culture of silence" in Italy may have masked sexual abuse by clergy in what is effectively the Vatican's backyard.

But in a country that lives largely off the throngs of tourists coming to see the pope — such as crowds in Rome for this week's Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican — Italian politicians predictably have rallied to defend the pontiff in the face of U.S. and German news reports that Benedict allegedly allowed a pedophile priest to do pastoral work while he was Munich archbishop.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini denounced as "scandalous and shameful" the allegations that the German-born pontiff might have failed to protect parishioners on his watch.

‘Unacceptable and unworthy’
Senate President Renato Schifani called the "attacks on the pope unacceptable and unworthy."

Video: Catholic church faces abuse scandal The church plays an important role in a country chronically short on public services for children, from nursery schools to recreation programs to summer day care. Generations of boys and girls have spent countless hours kicking soccer balls or romping in playgrounds, gardens and auditoriums run by neighborhood priests.

But the political class might be out of touch with some of their rank-and-file citizens.

The Catholic voter bloc in Italy is "absolutely not" what it was immediately after World War II, when Christian Democrats dominated Italian politicians, said Frank Coppa, a historian and professor at St. John's University, New York, who has studied the papacy as an institution.

"I don't know if they reflect the broad" populace anymore, Coppa said in a telephone interview Monday.

And while Italian media referred to the foreign media scrutiny as "attacks," citizens were less critical.

"The foreign press is simply stating the truth, something that never happens in Italy when it comes to the Catholic Church," said 23-year-old Florence sales clerk Valentina Cappellucci, sitting Tuesday on the steps of a Jesuit church in Rome.

Priest trial largely ignored
Meanwhile, mainstream Italian media have largely ignored the trial in Rome of an Italian priest accused of sexually abusing seven boys.

"While there are priests in prison, and priests on trial, (and) certainly the phenomenon in Italy is very much widespread, part of this phenomenon lies buried by these attitudes toward the church," Nino Marazzita, a lawyer who represents two of the boys, told Associated Press Television News Tuesday.

The Vatican's own "prosecutor" for clergy sex abuse, Maltese prelate Monsignor Charles Scicluna, recently acknowledged that he was "worried about a certain culture of silence that I see as still too widespread" in Italy.

Tourist Maria Pelosi, 66, agreed Italy should look more closely at its own, but said officials from the government, and not the church, should take the lead.

"Not church inspectors, but inspectors from other states and above all Italy should investigate to bring out what happened and not try to stay silent like it (the church) has always been," said Pelosi, who was visiting Rome on Tuesday from the southern Italian region of Puglia.

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

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