Georg Ratzinger
© Alberto Pellaschiar/APGeorg Ratzinger has admitted hearing of cases of ill-treatment during his time as director of the Regensburg choir
The most famous choir in the world has been caught up in the wave of paedophile scandals sweeping Germany and Austria, with eight former choristers denouncing their teachers in the past few days.

An open letter from the management of the Vienna Boys' Choir to parents expressed regret at the incidents, which were recounted by former singers now aged between 40 and 70.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, called yesterday for truth and clarity in investigating paedophile abuse not only in church institutions but everywhere within the educational system. "We all agree that sexual abuse against children is a despicable crime," she told parliament.

So far about 300 claims of sexual abuse have been made by former pupils of German church schools and of non-denominational boarding schools.

The Government is considering extending the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. At present an alleged offender cannot be prosecuted ten years after his victim reaches the age of 18. Many of the cases being made now were for abuse committed in the 1950s and early 1960s and the priests involved are dead or in old people's homes.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the Justice Minister, offended church leaders by accusing the Vatican of covering up scandals and urged German bishops to co-operate with state prosecutors - something that the Church feels could erode its independence. The Vienna Boys' Choir has no formal relationship with the Church and is, therefore, less politically sensitive.

It is, however, the best-known choir in the world, performing 300 concerts a year and making millions out of Christmas records. "No one can undo injustice," a spokeswoman for the choir said. "At the moment listening is the most important thing we can do."

Claims of sexual abuse have also been made against the Regensburger Domspatzen boys' choir, which was run until 1994 by Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's brother. Mgr Ratzinger has denied all knowledge of paedophile sex. A priest who worked at the choir between 1970 and 1972 was suspended yesterday amid allegations of sexual abuse dating back to that period.

The abuse has prompted questions about why priests who had offended or who were suspected of offending were simply transferred and allowed to resume duties involving children.

"We need to clarify the boundary between the solidarity and forgiveness that we offer to sinning but repentant fellow priests, and the overriding need not to betray our responsibility towards the children in our charge," a senior cleric said.

Ms Merkel's speech indicated that the Government would step in to protect children if the Church failed to do so. "We will have to talk about changing the statute of limitations and . . . about compensation," she said.