VIENNA, Austria (AP) — A 27-year-old Polish seminary student has been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography, a prosecutor said Monday as an investigation widened into Austria’s worst church sex scandal in nearly a decade.
State prosecutor Walter Nemec said in a statement that the student, whose name was not released, downloaded “numerous” lurid photos from a Web site based in his native Poland.
Authorities say up to 40,000 photos and numerous videos, including child pornography and pictures of candidates for the priesthood kissing and fondling each other and their older instructors, were found at the Roman Catholic seminary in St. Poelten, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Vienna.
The affair, which has outraged many people in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation, is reminiscent of a 1995 pedophilia scandal that forced then-Cardinal Hermann Groer to resign. Groer, who died last year, had been accused of molesting students at an all-male Catholic boarding school in the mid-1970s.
Nemec said the Polish student was charged with distribution as well as possession because the images of children in sexual situations were stored on computers that were readily available to other students at the seminary.
If tried and convicted, the suspect could face up to two years in prison.
Investigators who seized and examined the computers’ hard drives suspect that eight other seminarians may have been involved, but proving it could be nearly impossible because the computers were shared and individual students were not assigned user IDs, Nemec said.
The police investigation has focused only on the child pornography aspect of the case, Nemec added, stressing that “homosexual relations between consenting adults not involving the abuse of an authority relationship” was not a crime in Austria.
Bishop Kurt Krenn, in charge of the diocese, has been under intense pressure to resign since the discovery of the material, which Nemec said also included images depicting sadomasochistic sexual acts.
Krenn, 68, has acknowledged his overall responsibility for the seminary but has refused to step down. He contends the priest sex photos were merely part of a “schoolboy prank” and that the furor over the affair is overblown. He has launched an internal inquiry.
The Archdiocese of Vienna’s ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse has urged the Vatican to remove Krenn as bishop. Two other influential Catholic lay organizations also have demanded that Krenn resign.
Earlier Monday, the seminary’s former deputy director bitterly vowed to fight for “truth, justice and honor” and clear his name.
Wolfgang Rothe, who resigned along with the seminary’s director, contended in a message posted on a diocese Web site that he was the victim of an “unimaginable” smear campaign.
“The confidence and encouragement of numerous people who know me have given me the strength after days of deepest despair and darkness to fight for truth, justice and honor,” Rothe said.