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Will German Catholic church abuse case reach Pope Benedict?

Investigations into charges of sexual and physical abuse of children by German Catholic priests are getting under way, and involve a choir run by Pope Benedict's brother. Did the pontiff know about the allegations when he was a bishop in his home country? "We do not know," a German Catholic church spokesman said.

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General view to the entrance of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys' choir school in Regensburg, southern Germany, on Wednesday. Pope Benedict's brother, Georg Ratzinger, was in charge of the choir from 1964 to 1994.

Jens Meyer/AP

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German Catholic church authorities here launched two intertwined investigations Wednesday into allegations of abuse by members of the clergy. One is looking into allegations about the brother of Pope Benedict XVI and the second into how much members of the German clergy – including the German-born pope - knew about the allegations, which date back to the 1950s.

The pope’s older brother, Rev. Georg Ratzinger, was in charge of the select Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir from 1964 to 1994. Members of that choir have alleged in recent weeks that choir leaders physically and sexually assaulted them on numerous occasions.

The Catholic diocese of Regensburg in southern Germany has appointed independent lawyer Andreas Scheulen to head the investigation. Rev. Ratzinger told Passauer Neue Presse, a German daily, that the sexual abuse allegations occurred before he was in charge of the choir, but said that he was not aware of the problem. He also told the German newspaper that he had slapped members of the choir in the 1960s, a common practice in Catholic schools at the time.

The emerging scandal about abusive priests and a possible cover-up by Church leaders comes after a string of similar allegations against the church in recent years that has left many Catholics disillusioned and questioning the Vatican's moral leadership.

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