Image: Walter Mixa
Rolf Haid  /  EPA file
Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa during a press conference in Freiburg, Germany, in February. Mixa offered his resignation on April 21. 
updated 5/8/2010 7:03:51 AM ET 2010-05-08T11:03:51

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of a leading German bishop who is being probed for allegedly abusing minors and financial misconduct.

The terse Vatican announcement Saturday cited no reason for accepting the resignation of Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, who offered to step down two weeks ago amid persistent allegations that he hit children while a priest decades ago and claims of financial irregularities at a children's home.

On Friday, German officials said a preliminary investigation had been launched against Mixa.

The daily newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine reported that Ingolstadt prosecutors had launched the preliminary investigation into Mixa over a charge of sexual abuse stemming from his time at the Eichstaett diocese from 1996 to 2005.

The Augsburg diocese confirmed in a statement that it had "handed over information, that has recently come up to the responsible authority," involving the bishop, but spokeswoman Kathi Marie Ulrich refused to give any details.

Bavarian Justice Ministry spokeswoman Stefanie Ruhwinkel said a preliminary investigation had been launched against the bishop but provided no other details.

Mixa's attorney Gerhard Decker told the paper his client "resolutely denied" the allegations.

The bishop has not made any public appearances since he wrote a letter to the pope April 21, offering to step down. He said he hoped the move would allow the diocese a "new start" and offered to cooperate fully with investigators.

Benedict appointed Mixa to lead the Augsburg diocese in July 2005, shortly after he had assumed the papacy.

Allegations that Mixa hit children while a priest decades ago surfaced earlier this year.

He initially denied ever using violence against youngsters in a televised interview, but after intense pressure, acknowledged several weeks later that he may have slapped children years ago.

Mixa has been a key member of Germany's Bishops Conference for more than a decade and his initial denial of physical violence fueled frustration among German Catholics who saw it as fresh evidence that the church was unwilling to come clean on the issue of abuse.

Germany's church has been rocked by allegations of physical and sexual abuse of minors that began in recent weeks. Hundreds of people have come forward with claims of having been abused by priests.

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

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