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Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the dean of Germany’s bishops conference, welcomed the new guidelines as a clear signal stressing that cases of sexual abuse of children and youths have to be thoroughly investigated and punished.

“The injustice of the past is being cleared, and the conclusions for the present and the future are being drawn,” he said in a statement.

Benedict’s native Germany has seen a flood of abuse allegations surface, and even the pontiff’s own tenure as archbishop of Munich has come under scrutiny since a pedophile priest in his archdiocese was allowed to resume pastoral work while being treated.

A spokesman for Germany’s Justice Ministry cautioned that the guidelines were an internal matter of the Roman Catholic Church, but welcomed them as a move in the right direction.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger wants to push for an extension of the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse who are seeking damages in civil law suits from three to 30 years, the ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

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Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.