Porn Scandal Could Cost Cleric:
Ouster Is Sought over Seminary Sex Photos
By William J. Kole
July 15, 2004
VIENNA, Austria -- An official with the Archdiocese of Vienna urged the Vatican on Wednesday to oust a Catholic bishop in charge of a seminary where candidates for the priesthood hoarded child pornography and photos of themselves kissing and fondling each other.
Bishop Kurt Krenn dismissed the photos as a schoolboy prank and accused critics of exaggerating the case -- the worst church scandal in Austria since allegations of pedophilia brought down a cardinal nearly a decade ago.
Police examined computers seized at the seminary in St. Poelten, 50 miles west of Vienna. Officials said discs contained 40,000 photographs and videos, including child pornography and photos of seminarians kissing and fondling each other and their instructors and engaging in sex games.
As some of the photos began appearing in Austrian newsmagazines -- depicting students in sexual situations while clad in black shirts and priestly collars -- calls mounted for Krenn to resign.
Only if Krenn steps down "will an extensive investigation be possible," said Helmut Schueller, the Vienna Archdiocese's ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse.
The seminary's director, the Rev. Ulrich Kuechl, already has resigned along with his deputy, Wolfgang Rothe.
But Krenn, 68, refused to step down and rebuffed his critics.
In a nationally televised interview, he conceded overall responsibility for 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 uproar "an exaggeration" and "a diocesan matter."
According to the Austrian Press Agency, Krenn spokesman Michael Dinhobl said the bishop launched his own investigation Wednesday. The internal inquiry by a six-member committee was an attempt "to examine the allegations . . . in the light of church morals and canon law," Dinhobl said.
The Vatican, which condemns homosexuality, has refused to comment.
The porn discovery, disclosed earlier this week, has scandalized many in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Church leaders are trying to heal divisions caused by allegations that the late Cardinal Hermann Groer, who died last year, molested students at an all-male boarding school in the 1970s. The Vatican forced Groer to resign in 1995 after the charges surfaced.
Krenn, whose close ties to the Vatican led Pope John Paul II to visit his diocese in 1998, was criticized at the time for defending Groer and insisting the cardinal was innocent.
Krenn said published photos showing seminary students French-kissing each other were taken at the end of a holiday celebration and were merely traditional "Christmas kisses."
"It had absolutely nothing at all to do with homosexuality," and those involved will not be punished, he said.
Schueller, the archdiocese ombudsman, rejected that notion Wednesday, telling an Austrian radio station: "It is completely clear that the photos concerned homoerotic encounters."
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