The head of Germany's 19 million Protestants said on Monday that she was stepping down following accusations that she had known of suspected sexual abuse by a former church employee years ago.
"What was initially a purely local and regional incident has become a case of nationwide significance. The situation has now escalated to such an extent that there is only one course of action I can take to avert damage to my church: I am resigning," said Annette Kurschus, who has been head of Germany's EKD, the main association of Protestant churches, since 2021.
A newspaper in the western town of Siegen had reported earlier this month that a former church employee who had worked in the church district in the 1990s, when Kurschus was a pastor, was suspected of several cases of sexual abuse involving boys.
Kurschus reiterated in her statement on Monday that she had never had an employment relationship with the former employee, whose family she had been friends with for a long time.
"I wish I had been as attentive, trained and sensitive to behavioural issues 25 years ago that would alarm me today," she said, adding that the church had been looking at suspected cases of sex abuse, some decades-old, since the start of the year.
The public prosecutor's office in Siegen said that an investigation into allegations by several people about sex abuse by a church musician in the 1980s and 1990s was ongoing.