BERLIN (AP) - Germany's top Jesuit apologized Monday for serial sexual abuse apparently committed by two priests at one of the country's most prestigious high schools, saying there was evidence of it for years but Jesuit officials did not "react the way it would have been necessary."
At least 20 students were sexually abused by the two priests at Berlin's private Catholic Canisius Kolleg in the 1970s and 1980s, the school's director Father Klaus Mertes said at a joint press conference with Father Stefan Dartmann, the head of the Jesuit order of Germany, on Monday evening at Canisius Kolleg.
That is much higher than the initial seven sexual abuse cases attributed to the two priests, Fathers Peter Riedel and Wolfgang Stab, that Mertes had reported last month.
"I am ashamed that nothing was done at the time," Dartmann said at the news conference. "I also apologize that those responsible at the order at the time did not ... react the way it would have been necessary."
Dartmann conceded that the Jesuit order of Germany had had evidence of the sexual abuse cases since 1981, but had never informed parents, students or authorities. Such cases can no longer be prosecuted in Germany because of its statute of limitations, he said.
Dartmann also said the two priests continued to sexually abuse boys and girls after being transferred from Canisius Kolleg to other Catholic schools and youth institutions in Germany, Mexico, Chile and Spain.
Three former students at a Jesuit school in Hamburg also accused one of the priests of abuse, several papers reported Monday night, and another Catholic school in the Black Forest is reportedly investigating if students there were also victims of abuse by the priests.
Canisius Kolleg is one of Germany's pre-eminent schools, the alma mater of many politicians, businesspeople and scientists. The scandal has become big news because Germany has not seen the major sexual abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic church that the United States and Ireland have.
Mertes said Monday that after he sent 500 letters to alumni of the school last month, more students reported suffering sexual abuse by Riedel and Stab, who taught at the school in the 1970s and 1980s. Mertes had reported the first seven abuse cases last week.
Riedel forced his students to masturbate and Stab exercised "excessive corporal rituals" in a sexual context, said Dartmann.
Both men later left the order and Stab has admitted the abuse. He now lives in Chile and sent a letter last month to some of the victims to apologize.
Riedel was attacked by one of his former victims in 1986, who then killed himself, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper said. Riedel has not admitted the abuse.
All the victims at Canisius school in Berlin were male and most were about 13 when the abuse began, Mertes said. They are around 40 now. Some of the later victims also include girls, according to Dartmann.
The Jesuit order has assigned an independent counselor for sexual abuse victims to investigate all allegations and present a report on the findings in two weeks.
Canisius Kolleg was founded as an all-boys school and turned coed in the late 1970s.
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