(German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger speaks during a session of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament in Berlin, about a neo-Nazi group that had been on a nationwide ten-year killing spree, November 22, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Germany’s justice minister said on Thursday the country’s Roman Catholic Church appeared to be shrinking from independent scrutiny after bishops sacked a top criminologist they had hired to investigate clerical sexual abuse.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the German bishops had initially committed to an outside study after devastating abuse revelations in 2010 which saw 600 people file claims against priests, but said they now seemed to want to control which findings would be published.

Victims’ groups and sympathisers were outraged by the Catholic bishops’ decision on Wednesday to sack Christian Pfeiffer, a man described by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger as one of Germany’s foremost criminal experts.

“It appears that conducting an independent, serious study into the abuse cases, as originally intended, is impossible for the Church,” she told Deutschlandfunk radio. “This is a shame, as it gives the impression that ultimately they (the Catholic Church) did not want everything to be independently studied.”