The Vatican responds to the child sex abuse sweeping the Roman Catholic Church in Germany

(ANSA) - Vatican City, March 12 - Pope Benedict XVI has approved measures to tackle the child sex abuse scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, the leader of the country's bishops said after an audience with the pope Friday.

Msgr Robert Zollitsch told a press conference he had illustrated the moves to the German-born pope.

"He is favourable to our measures but we do not know whether they will be extended to other countries," Zollitsch said.

That will depend on pending decisions by the Vatican's watchdog, the Congregation (department) for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Congregation is drawing up a "decalogue," the archbishop said, adding that the German Church did not need the Holy See's help in handling the scandal.

He said Benedict had "recognised" the German bishops' ability to tackle the cases on their own. While stressing that the German Church had "always collaborated with justice," unless victims asked for the police not to be called in, Zollitsch said it would tighten its procedures "to bring the truth to light without false respect for anyone or anything, even things that happened a long time ago, because victims are entitled to this".

Investigation norms would also be rethought across the country and more support provided to victims.

The archbishop defended the Church's existing record in tackling abuse, saying "the procedures adopted by us have given excellent results in the last eight years".

Some 19 of Germany's 27 dioceses have now been affected by the scandal, which follows similar cases in Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria.

It has even come close to the pope's brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, with at least one case reported at the famous Regensburg boys' choir led by Ratzinger for 30 years.

The local Church said the cases occurred before Ratzinger was appointed choirmaster in 1964. The scandals have raised the issue of priestly celibacy but Benedict said Friday it was "a holy value".

Celibacy, he told an international theological conference at a Vatican university in Rome, was "an expression of the gift of oneself to God and to others".

"Our limits and weaknesses should prompt us to guard with profound faith" the priestly life, the pope added, making no direct reference to the German scandal. On Wednesday Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn called for an "unflinching" examination of the possible roots of the scandals, saying "it also includes the issue of priestly celibacy".

But Vienna archdiocese spokesman Erich Leitenberger told Catholic news agency SIR Thursday that the cardinal "did not call into question celibacy in any way".

In Germany, the Archbishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Mueller, described the notion of celibacy being "the cause" of child sex abuse as "nonsense".

Germany has already launched a scheme, involving the Church, police and families, to prevent child sex abuse while Catholic authorities in the Netherlands on Wednesday opened a sweeping probe into how recent cases could have occurred.

Austria is expected to follow their lead.

Scandals have also swept the Church in Ireland and a number of Irish bishops have resigned.

In the United States, where abuse was first exposed on a major scale in the late 1990s, several dioceses have been bankrupted by settlements.

Benedict has promised a new strategy to make sure child sex abuse never happens again, citing the eradication of this "hateful crime" as one of the Church's top priorities.