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German bishop reportedly eyed for sex abuse

German officials say prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation against Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa. It reportedly involves a case of sexual abuse.
Image: Walter Mixa
Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa during a press conference in Freiburg, Germany, in February.Rolf Haid / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

German officials said Friday that a preliminary investigation has been launched against Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, who offered Pope Benedict XVI his resignation already last month over allegations he physically abused minors.

The daily 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 Mixa but provided no other details.

Prosecutors in Ingolstadt did not respond to calls Friday and Mixa could not be reached for comment.

Mixa's attorney Gerhard Decker told the paper his client "resolutely denied" the allegations. Decker did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

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.

German media reported Friday the pope had accepted the resignation, but Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said he would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

Announcements that the pope has accepted a bishop's resignation offer are published in the Holy See's press office daily bulletin and are never made public before that step, Lombardi said. The next bulletin will be published Saturday.

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.