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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Roman Catholic Church will open its files to independent investigators into a sexual abuse crisis, allowing a search as far back as 1945, a bishop announced on Wednesday.
Nine German dioceses will open records dating back to the end of World War Two while the 18 others will do so for the period 2000 to 2010, Bishop Stephan Ackermann said in Bonn.
"We want to track down the truth that may be lying undiscovered in the files of previous decades," said Ackermann, the spokesman on abuse issues for the bishops' conference.
The two studies will provide "not only formal statistics, but also research into the causes (of abuse)," he told journalists, "so we can better understand how this monstrous sexual abuse by clerics and church employees came about."
The German Church, one of the worst affected in a wave of abuse revelations that swept Europe last year, will use the studies to help hitherto undiscovered victims and improve prevention of future abuse, Ackermann said.
In Ireland, the latest of several government-sponsored reports said on Wednesday the Irish hierarchy continued to conceal cases of child molestation by priests even after it set abuse prevention guidelines in the 1990s.
Christian Pfeiffer of the Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute, which will conduct one study, said the nine dioceses examined back to 1945 should provide an adequate sample to determine if the child molestation cases, which were particularly frequent from the 1950s through the 1970s, had deeper roots.
The second study, conducted by a psychiatric institute at the University of Essen-Duisburg, will analyse the biographies and abusive behaviour of predator priests to identify possible risk factors to consider in prevention efforts.
Pfeiffer stressed the researchers would have access to all personnel files for priests and church employees to ensure the accuracy of the data they uncover.
Priests from the religious orders, which often run schools where abuse cases have been reported, will be included in the studies of the past decade.
Pfeiffer said his institute would work closely with experts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which drew up similar studies for the United States Catholic Church.
Some 180,000 Germans left the Catholic Church in 2010, a 40 percent jump over the previous year, as allegations that priests sexually abused children for decades shook the faith, according to a study published in April.
The number of parishioners quitting the Church surpassed the total of those leaving main Protestant churches for the first time in postwar Germany, the study by the magazine Christ & Welt said.
German-born Pope Benedict is due to visit his homeland in September to deliver a speech to the parliament in Berlin and tour Erfurt in eastern Germany and Freiburg in the southwest.
Writing by Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor; editing by Robert Woodward