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Pope Benedict willing to meet with more abuse victims, Vatican says

Pope Benedict XVI is willing to meet with more victims of priestly abuse, the Vatican said Friday, as more complaints of clerical misconduct continued to surface across Europe.

Benedict has met with such victims in the past, most notably in the U.S., but has yet to do so since a raft of new allegations of abuse began emerging in Europe in recent weeks. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pontiff was available for more face-to-face meetings.

But even as Lombardi spoke to Vatican Radio on Friday, new cases of alleged abuse were reported in Norway. The head of the Roman Catholic Church there, Bernd Eidsvig, told reporters that four complaints of molestation had come to light, two of which involved incidents that allegedly occurred about 50 years ago at the hands of people who have since died.

Eidsvig’s disclosure came two days after the church in Norway revealed that a bishop who resigned last year did so because he was guilty of abusing an altar boy about 20 years ago. Critics have questioned why it took so long for the church to acknowledge the reason for the bishop’s departure.

“It was easy to keep quiet,” Bishop Eidsvig told a news conference, according to Reuters news service. “Under Norwegian law a priest does not have a duty to report what he has heard in internal forums, during confession or during pastoral care.”

In Benedict’s homeland of Germany, a new hotline set up by the church to receive complaints was jammed with calls, overwhelming the counselors staffing it. Church officials reported more than 13,000 attempted calls to the hotline in just three days, only a fraction of which got through.

It was in Germany that this latest crisis engulfing the Vatican began, with allegations of abuse at a Catholic-run school in Berlin. Complaints have now sprung up in the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland as well.

The Vatican blames the media for what it calls a smear campaign against the pope, who it says has shown firmness and determination in cracking down on abuse by priests. Lombardi on Friday defended Benedict as a leader worthy of respect and support.

henry.chu@latimes.com


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