A German Catholic priest arrested at the weekend has admitted sexually abusing three boys over the past four years, police said on Tuesday.
"There are three young boys that are suspected of being sexually abused by the priest as far back as 2007," said police spokesman Joachim Grande in the north German town of Braunschweig. "The suspect has substantially admitted to the accusations during police examination."
Investigators are also re-examining the 2006 death of a 25-year-old man at the priest's apartment that was ruled a suicide, in the light of the suspected abuse, police said.
The case comes days after the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, which has been rocked by abuse allegations in the past year, said it would open its files to independent investigators, allowing searches as far back as 1945.
Police said they are looking into information that the 46-year-old priest, who is currently in custody, may have abused children as early as 2006. They have set up a special investigation commission called "Peccantia," Latin for "sin".
The investigation had been running since early July, police said. The priest's arrest had been planned for this week but police moved in on Saturday as he was about to go on a church-organised trip with minors.
Some 180,000 German Catholics left the Church last year, a 40 per cent rise 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 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.
German-born Pope Benedict is due to visit his homeland in September to deliver a speech to parliament in Berlin and tour Erfurt in eastern Germany and Freiburg in the southwest.