(CNN) -- The head of the Catholic Church in Germany expressed "sadness, horror and shame" Friday that children were abused by priests and church officials, and called for Good Friday to be "a new start that we all so urgently need."
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said the abuse scandal that has come to light in Germany in recent weeks and months has shaken the church.
Victims "often could for decades not express their wounds in words," Zollitsch said in a message posted on the Web site of the Archdiocese of Freiburg. "Wounds were opened that never healed."
Zollitsch also expressed "disappointment over the painful failure of the offenders, and that the victims weren't helped enough because of the misplaced concern about the reputation of the church. That is also a sad reality that we have to face up to."
He asked for prayers for the children and young people who suffered both physical and mental abuse, calling them "victims of injustice and brutality."
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, is observed by Christians to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.
The German church has dealt with a number of high-profile abuse cases recently amid a widening international scandal that includes countries such as Ireland, France, the United States, and Mexico.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising -- once headed by Pope Benedict XVI -- was criticized for ignoring warnings to keep one of its priests away from children despite the man having been convicted of pedophilia.
The priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, was convicted of abusing minors in 1986, but was later allowed to continue his priestly work and deal with children. A new allegation of abuse recently surfaced against Hullermann, dating from 1998 in the town of Garching.
Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who was archbishop at the time, has apologized for allowing Hullermann to work in the town after his conviction.
The German Diocese of Regensburg confirmed last month that four Catholic priests and two nuns have been accused of sexually abusing children. Five of the cases are from the 1970s and one is from the 1980s.
Hundreds of people in Germany have claimed this year that they had been abused by Catholic clergy when they were children. Some allege the abuse was sexual, while others refer to physical violence such as slapping.
German lawyers representing alleged victims say there are more than 300 cases across Germany. Some of the cases date back to the 1950s.