Pope 'to Run' Church Sex Probe

By Daniel Aronssohn
The Courier-Mail [Austria]
July 19, 2004

CALLS mounted in Austria today for the Vatican to remove the bishop of Sankt Poelten, as judicial authorities prepared to make new revelations about accusations of child abuse aimed at several Roman Catholic priests.

The bishop, Kurt Krenn, notorious for making extremist statements about Islam, said today he was the victim of a plot, without saying by whom.

"They want to destroy me, but I am holding firm," he said.

After pictures appeared in the news magazine Profil a week ago showing pictures of passionate kissing and cuddling between teachers and students at a seminary in his diocese, the bishop dismissed the activities as mere "pranks".

But now the affair has taken a more serious turn with allegations that activities at the seminary went further than canoodling among adolescent seminarians and the staff.

"Photographs of child pornography have been found in several computers belonging to several people" at the seminary, said the prosecutor of St Poelten, Walter Nemec, adding that he had received "new complaints about sexual aggression against minors".

He said he would give more details about the investigation within the next 24 hours.

Prosecutors have been investigating alleged child abuse at the seminary for several months, but the issue came to a head when Profil published the photographs, and alleged that police had found up to 40,000 pornographic photographs, including scenes of sex with children and animals.

The director of the seminary and his deputy have resigned, but many Catholics and church associations have held Bishop Krenn responsible for the scandal and want him removed.

"As a Catholic, I want clarification quickly and unreservedly," said Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, one of many politicians to have commented on the case.

"Those in positions of responsibility must act in full respect for the truth."

The tabloid Kronen Zeitung, Austria's most widely read newspaper, quoted a "reliable source" today as saying that Pope John Paul II would personally take charge of the case, which is being investigated internally by the Austrian bishops' conference.

"What the Austrian Church requires of Rome are rapid decisions," it said.

According to a poll by the Austrian Society of Marketing, 72 per cent of Austrians would like to see the resignation of the arch-conservative bishop, who was said to be close to Ulrich Kuechl, the former director of the seminary, and Wolfgang Rothe, his former deputy.

It is the most serious scandal in the predominantly Catholic country since Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to resign from his Vienna archbishopric in 1995 over allegations he had molested young boys.

Bishop Krenn told reporters he had heard nothing from the Vatican.

"For Rome this has another importance than it does for us," he said, denying that the events in his diocese had any importance.

"Perhaps there was a homosexual or a bad apple somewhere," he said. "We don't know any more."

The bishop, described by one priest in Vienna as "physically and psychologically sick, and insupportable for the church", has created waves in the past by saying that Islam is an "aggressive" religion, and warning that the growing size of Austria's Muslim population, an estimated 300,000, meant "a new occupation of Vienna by the Turks".

Ottoman troops besieged Vienna twice, in 1529 and 1683, but never actually succeeded in capturing the Austrian capital.


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