Controversial German bishop offers to resign


GERMANY’S CLERICAL abuse scandal has claimed its most prominent scalp to date after controversial Bishop Walter Mixa offered to resign yesterday.

The arch-conservative bishop of Augsburg was under fire over allegations that he beat orphans in the 1970s. He denied the claims at first but backtracked at the weekend, admitting he had given children “the odd smack”.

Four women who spent their childhood at a Bavarian orphanage swore in affidavits last month that Bishop Mixa, as a local curate, hit them during his regular visits. A man who grew up in the orphanage in the 1970s reported regular beatings on his bare buttocks with a carpet beater.

In recent days an investigator into the abuse allegations claimed that, during his time as curate to the orphanage, Bishop Mixa spent institutional funds on art, wine and private entertainment.

Bishop Mixa’s position became untenable when, on Wednesday, German primate Robert Zollitsch took the highly unusual step of suggesting that his colleague take time off for reflection.

After a few hours’ reflection, the 68-year-old bishop submitted his resignation.

“I ask forgiveness of all those to whom I may have been unfair and to those who I may have caused heartache,” he wrote to Pope Benedict XVI.

He said he was “fully aware of his own weaknesses” and said his diocese of Augsburg needed a “new start”.

The bishop’s handling of the allegations left him increasingly isolated in recent days, abandoned by even close conservative allies.

“That a bishop lies to his diocese and the public is unacceptable,” said Fr Ralf Gössl, a close friend of the bishop.

“It is unacceptable in light of the children who were exposed to violence – because even a slap is a form of violence – and it is unacceptable in view of the credibility of the church.”

Bishop Mixa’s resignation, pending papal approval, marks the departure of Germany’s most controversial and divisive cleric.

The hardline conservative was loathed by liberals for claiming that helping young mothers return to the workplace reduced them to “child-bearing machines”.

In recent weeks he caused fresh controversy for suggesting that partial blame for the clerical child abuse scandal lay with the 1968 student revolution and its “sexualisation of public life”.

German Catholic lay organisations welcomed the news.

“This had become a heavy burden for the church,” said Alois Glück, head of the Committee of German Catholics, “so this is a great relief.”