The brother of Pope Benedict has admitted he slapped pupils in the face at a German school where he led the choir, but said he had been unaware of the brutality of the discipline there.
Rev Georg Ratzinger (86) made the comments to a German paper yesterday following charges of sexual and physical abuse in Catholic schools in the Pope's native Bavaria.
“Pupils told me on concert trips about what went on. But it didn't dawn on me from their stories that I should do something. I was not aware of the extent of these brutal methods,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse.
“If I had known about the excess of force... I would have said something. I ask the victims for forgiveness.”
Rev Ratzinger led the “Domspatzen” (Cathedral Sparrows), the official choir for the Regensburg diocese, from 1964 to 1994. “At the start, I also slapped people in the face, but I always had a bad conscience,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has said its involvement in child abuse scandals was only part of a wider problem.
Sexual abuse scandals in Germany, the Pope's homeland, and other countries were cause for anguish but the Church's response has been prompt and transparent, the Vatican said.
A spokesman said any abuse in the Church is “especially deplorable” given its educational and moral responsibilities. But he said the problem was wider than cases that have surfaced in the Church and that focusing on the Church alone would not truly depict the problem.
Scandals over sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy and cover-ups by Church hierarchy have exploded in recent months in Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.
The US Church is still dealing with the financial and emotional fallout from years of scandals.
The latest allegations are particularly sensitive, because Germany is the Pope's homeland and because they involve a choir once led by his brother.
Ratzinger has repeatedly said the allegations date from before his tenure as choir director.