National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  July 30, 2004\

Abuse scandal in Austrian diocese prompts investigation


Responding to a mounting sex abuse crisis in Austria, the Vatican has named an apostolic investigator to examine revelations that some 40,000 images of child pornography have been discovered in the seminary in the Sankt Pölten diocese, along with pictures of seminarians and priests in sexually explicit poses.

Most Austrian observers believe the investigation will end with a recommendation either to remove the bishop of the diocese, or at least to name a coadjutor with power over matters such as seminary formation.

The man at the center of the storm is Sankt Pölten’s Bishop Kurt Krenn, 68, who so far has refused to resign, and has insisted that the pictures of seminarians and priests amount to a “schoolboy prank” that “had nothing to do with homosexuality.”

Krenn, who has long had a high media profile in Austria because of his outspoken personal style, is widely seen as perhaps the most conservative bishop in the country.

On July 20, the Vatican announced that Bishop Klaus Küng, 63, of Feldkirch had been appointed to look into the crisis. Küng is a member of Opus Dei, generally seen as on the conservative wing of the Catholic church. Many Austrian observers believe the choice reflects a determination that the results of Küng’s investigation cannot be dismissed as an ideological attempt to discredit Krenn.

One potential complication in removing Krenn may be that he is rumored to be on friendly terms with Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the private secretary of Pope John Paul II. Given that perception, Vatican sources told NCR July 21, there is special concern in Rome that all the facts of the case be carefully documented.

Whatever support Krenn may have enjoyed inside Austria, however, appears to be eroding quickly. On July 20, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said on national television that the Austrian bishops had repeatedly warned Krenn that he had to change his style of governing, and specifically that he should not accept candidates for the seminary who had been expelled from seminaries in other dioceses. Schonbörn expressed frustration that the Vatican had not exerted pressure on Krenn in the past.

Küng arrived in Sankt Pölten on the morning of July 21 to begin his inquest. In a brief interview with national television the night before, he said he intended to speak with a wide cross-section of people, and study not just the seminary but the entire situation in the diocese. Küng did not say how long he expected the investigation to take, but some Austrian sources have said they anticipate it will require perhaps three to four weeks.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 2004

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