Vatican City: The pope defended priestly celibacy on Friday after a series of paedophile priest scandals rekindled debate on the Church's policy as the head of Germany's Catholics again apologised to victims.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with the German Catholic Church's leader, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that celibacy is "the sign of full devotion" and of an "entire commitment to the Lord".
"The value of sacred celibacy, which in the Latin Church is ... required for ordination (of priests), is held in great regard by Eastern Churches," he added at a theological convention.
The pope's comments came a day after Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schoenborn called for an unflinching examination of the possible roots of child sex abuse by priests, saying it should include the issue of priestly celibacy.
Another of Austria's most senior clerics, the Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser, also said the Catholic Church must ask itself whether celibacy is still an appropriate way of life for priests.
"In the Church's current situation, the question must be asked whether celibacy is an appropriate way of life for priests and an appropriate way of life for believers," Kothgasser told ORF public television. "Times have changed and society has changed."
Related article: Main child abuse scandals faced by Catholic church. A proliferation of abuse scandals across Europe has prompted deep soul searching among Church leaders, not least in Benedict's native Germany where 19 of the 27 dioceses have been implicated in allegations.
The flood of revelations began in late January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s. A school attached to a cathedral in Regensburg where Benedict's brother was choir master was among those later implicated.
Speaking after his meeting with Benedict in the Vatican, Germany's top Catholic cleric issued a new apology to all those who had been affected and announced the creation of a watchdog to counter abuses.
"I want to repeat here in Rome the apology that I made two weeks ago," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg told a news conference in the Vatican.
He said the pope had praised "the steps taken by the German Bishops Conference (including) the naming of a bishop as a special counsel" who would act as a watchdog on the issue of the sexual abuse of children.
German Education Minister Annette Schavan has said there should be "zero tolerance" of the sexual abuse of children.
Most of the priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago, but there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the Church to pay compensation.
The Church has promised to shed light on all allegations, even those that are decades old.
Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 to condemn priestly paedophilia, and he has met with abuse victims in the United States and Australia.
In the United States the pope said those found guilty of paedophilia would be removed from the priesthood and the Church.
In February, he met with top officials of the Catholic Church in Ireland where a similar scandal was compounded by evidence that the hierarchy covered up for predator priests. The pope then called child abuse a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin".
In 2001, when Benedict was head of the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, he ordered that paedophilia cases be reported to the Holy See, suspecting that many national hierarchies preferred to look the other way.
However earlier this week the pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, insisted the German, Austrian and Dutch churches had acted swiftly and "decisively" to address the scandals on their patch and stressed that sexual abuse went far beyond church walls.
First Published: Friday, March 12, 2010, 23:53