updated 4/7/2010 3:58:19 PM ET 2010-04-07T19:58:19

A Catholic bishop in Norway who resigned last year did so after admitting he had molested a child about 20 years earlier, when he was a priest, church officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came after a Norwegian newspaper pressed for an explanation for why Georg Mueller, a 58-year-old German, had stepped down unexpectedly as bishop in the western city of Trondheim in June 2009. At the time, Vatican and Norwegian church officials gave only vague reasons for Mueller's departure.

It was the first case in the current wave of sexual abuse allegations — and accusations of cover-ups — against Catholic clergy in which a bishop stepped down after admitting to having molested minors.

The revelation rocked the small Catholic community in Norway, a predominantly Lutheran country, and follows scandals in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark that are erupting after decades of abuse cases in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and other countries.

Mueller's successor, Bishop Bernt Eidsvig, said in a statement that the details surrounding the case had been kept quiet at the request of the victim. Church officials said it happened at "the beginning of the 90s" — before Mueller became a bishop in 1997 — and no other allegations had come to light.

Underwent therapy
Mueller was removed from all pastoral duties and underwent therapy after he admitted the abuse, Eidsvig said.

"He will never again be given a position in the church," Eidsvig told Adresseavisen, the Trondheim daily newspaper that broke the story.

Adresseavisen said the victim was an altar boy. Eidsvig didn't give any details, saying only that the victim was now "well over age."

The church in Norway said it made the case public at the request of Cardinal William Levada, who oversees the office that handles cases of alleged abuse by priests.

Adresseavisen wrote Wednesday that it has for the past year repeatedly requested details about Mueller's resignation, which the church had explained only in vague terms.

It's too late for the case, which came to the Vatican's attention in January of last year, to be tried in civil court because the statute of limitations in Norway has passed, Eidsvig said.

Relocated to Rome
Mueller, who first took up a post in Trondheim in 1981, quit his post on June 8, 2009, and relocated to Rome, according to the Web site of the German branch of his order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The site said his resignation cited a section of canon law that allows a bishop to quit early if he is unable to carry out his duties for health or other reasons.

Father Heinz-Josef Catrein confirmed that the order, whose German section he heads, was aware of the reason for Mueller's resignation, but said it had no power to handle the case.

"As a bishop, he was and is under the jurisdiction of the Holy See," Catrein told The Associated Press by telephone from Lahnstein, north of Frankfurt.

Since Mueller left Norway, he spent time in Germany and Italy — foremost in Rome — Catrein added. This included several weeks of psychiatric care in a German clinic that Catrein declined to identify.

"I don't know where he is now. I get the feeling he doesn't want to be found," he said.

A priest at the order's monastery in nearby Arnstein also was unaware of Mueller's whereabouts.

Payment to victim
At the Rome headquarters of Mueller's order, the Rev. Alfred Bell said the bishop had "spent some time in Jerusalem" after resigning. Bell said he didn't know Mueller's current whereabouts but added that the bishop hadn't done any kind of ministry work since resigning.

Bell is the order's postulator, the official who promotes the sainthood cause of members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Bell shepherded the cause of the Rev. Damien de Veutser, a 19th-century Belgian missionary from the Congregation who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii and became a saint last year.

Addresseavisen reported that the church paid the victim between $67,000-$84,000 in reparations. Andreas Dingstad, a spokesman for Norway's Catholic Church, told The Associated Press he didn't know whether the church had paid reparations.

The Catholic Church in Norway had previously said it had investigated two separate claims of abuse from the 1950s.

Church officials estimate there are more than 100,000 Catholics in Norway, a mostly Lutheran country of 4.9 million people.

In neighboring Denmark, also predominantly Lutheran, the Catholic Church launched an investigation this week into claims of clerical abuse dating back several decades. The panel is looking into 17 cases mostly dating to the 1960s and 70s.field in Rome and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.

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