Resignation demanded of Austrian bishop in porn scandal

William J Kole | July 15, 2004

VIENNA — Pressure mounted Wednesday on an embattled Roman Catholic bishop to resign over the discovery at a seminary of a huge cache of child pornography and photos of candidates for the priesthood in gay sex situations.

Only if Bishop Kurt Krenn steps down "will an extensive investigation be possible" into the discovery of up to 40,000 photos and numerous videos, said Helmut Schueller, the Archdiocese of Vienna's ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse.

Schueller called on the Vatican to force out Krenn, 68, who oversees the diocese in St. Poelten, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Vienna where the seminary is located.

Krenn has been widely criticized for dismissing as a "schoolboy prank" photos of seminarians kissing and fondling each other.

Officials say other photos show the students allegedly engaging in sex games with older religious instructors.

In a late-night interview Tuesday on Austrian state television, the bishop said he accepts overall responsibility for what happened at the seminary but insisted the furor was overblown.

"Although these things naturally fall into my competence, I had nothing to do with them," he said, calling the affair "an exaggeration."

The porn discovery, which was disclosed earlier this week, has scandalized many in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Church leaders are still trying to heal divisions caused by allegations that the late Cardinal Hermann Groer molested students at an all-male boarding school in the 1970s.

A defiant Krenn said published photos showing seminary students French-kissing each other were taken at the end of a Christmas celebration and were merely traditional "Christmas kisses."

"It had absolutely nothing at all to do with homosexuality," he said in the nationally televised interview, adding that those involved would not be punished.

Schueller rejected that notion Wednesday, telling Austrian radio "it is completely clear that the photos concerned homoerotic encounters" between older priests and young seminarians.

The seminary's director, Rev. Ulrich Kuechl, has resigned along with his deputy, Wolfgang Rothe.

Krenn, however, has refused to step down despite repeated calls for his resignation and for a criminal investigation to determine whether older seminary leaders used their positions of authority to get sexual favors from their young charges.

Many of the candid photos were taken by an unidentified 33-year-old Polish-born priest who used a digital camera, authorities in the province of Lower Austria said Wednesday.

Officials have said most of the images involving children were downloaded from a Web site in Poland.

Krenn, whose close ties to the Vatican led to a visit by Pope John Paul II to his diocese in 1998, was criticized at the time for defending Groer and insisting the cardinal was innocent of the pedophilia charges.

The Austrian magazine News quoted Krenn on Wednesday as saying the Austrian Bishops Conference, which has pledged to push for a quick and thorough internal investigation, was overstepping its authority.

"This is a diocesan affair ... it doesn't concern them in the least," Krenn said. – Sapa-AP

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US studies document priestly sex abuse scandal [01/03/2004]



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