BERLIN (Reuters) - A Catholic priest admitted in a German court on Thursday to sexually abusing three boys over eight years, including one he was preparing for his first communion and two brothers during trips that included Disneyland in Paris, German media reported.
The 46-year-old, named in court documents as Andreas L., admitted to charges of abusing the boys from 2004.
"The worst aspect is that he exploited their trust," said Klaus Ziehe, lead court prosecutor in the central city of Braunschweig, in comments published by Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Abuse allegations have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in recent years, forcing it to open its files to independent investigators and allow searches for potential abuse cases as far back as 1945.
The priest, who had been arrested last summer, used a document folder to cover his face in the courtroom, where some of his former parishioners had come to witness the proceedings.
Some shook their heads or covered their mouths in shock as the charges were read aloud, the paper reported.
The cases may be partly behind disenchantment among the faithful. One study shows some 180,000 German Catholics left the Church in 2010, a 40 percent rise over the previous year, amid allegations that priests sexually abused children for decades.
The number of people 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.
Pope Benedict met victims of clerical sex abuse on a visit to his native Germany in September and expressed his deep regret, while Berlin has set up a 100 million euro ($128 million) fund to pay for their therapy.
The German Catholic Church faces some 600 demands for compensation.
Reporting by Brian Rohan; Editing by Myra MacDonald