Sex Scandal Stuns Austria's Catholics:
Reported Discovery of Child Pornography at Seminary Has Prompted Calls for Bishop to Quit

By Sonya Yee
July 14, 2004

VIENNA Austria's Roman Catholic Church is scrambling to contain a widening sex scandal after it emerged that police had found what one magazine described as tens of thousands of pornographic photographs at a local seminary.

The photos, discovered on seminary computers, allegedly depict child pornography and seminary priests engaged in sexual acts with students.

Local media have published photos showing the seminary director and his deputy kissing and fondling seminarians. Both men have since resigned.

The church has announced an internal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct at the seminary, which is in the diocese of St. Poelten, west of Vienna.

Outrage over the affair continued to build in this largely Roman Catholic country as Bishop Kurt Krenn, chief of the St. Poelten diocese, dismissed the published photos of seminarians and instructors kissing and caressing as "boys' foolishness."

Krenn addressed the issue again briefly Tuesday night during an appearance on a religious television program devoted to a discussion of chastity. Limiting his remarks to the kissing shown in the published photos, he said it involved innocent signs of affection at a Christmas party and "had nothing to do with homosexuality."

Krenn's earlier comment outraged other Catholic officials and opposition politicians, who have called for his resignation.

Rudi Leo, a spokesman for the opposition Greens party, called Krenn's statement an "unbelievable provocation" and said the photos were "just the tip of the iceberg."

Austrian newsmagazine Profil, which brought the allegations to light this week, reported that about 40,000 pornographic photos as well as numerous videos had been found on seminary computers. The report also said the seminary was the scene of all-night drinking parties, at which the priests viewed child pornography and shouted Nazi slogans.

Max Gruber of the Lower Austria public prosecutor's office confirmed that the police had seized computers from the seminary and were investigating alleged possession of child pornography.

So far, the allegations of sexual relations between the priests and seminarians involve adults and are considered an internal church matter, Gruber said.

The Roman Catholic Church is a powerful social and political force in Austria. Although membership has declined, nearly three-quarters of Austrians identify themselves as Catholic.

The scandal is the worst the Austrian church has faced since the mid-1990s, when Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, then the head of the church, was accused of having molested young boys decades earlier. He stepped down in 1998 after an internal investigation and died last year.

Krenn, viewed as an archconservative, was one of Groer's most impassioned supporters. The bishop has reputedly enjoyed considerable favor at the Vatican. However, Austrian state radio reported that senior Catholic officials were considering whether to petition the Vatican for his removal.

Michael Fleischhacker, deputy editor and columnist at the Austrian daily newspaper Die Presse, said the scandal had isolated the once-powerful Krenn.

There is a growing consensus in the Austrian church, Fleischhacker said, "that something has to be done, and that means Krenn has to go."


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