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Vatican names special inspector to investigate child porn scandal at Austrian seminary

Associated Press, USA
July 20, 2004
William J. Kole, Associated Press Writer
www.sfgate.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Wednesday July 21, 2004

Moving to contain a scandal that has deeply embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II appointed a special inspector Tuesday to investigate a seminary where authorities uncovered 40,000 pornographic photos, including child porn.

The pope named Austrian Bishop Klaus Kueng as an “apostolic visitor” for the embattled diocese of St. Poelten and its seminary.

Austrian authorities have launched a separate criminal investigation into the recent discovery of some 40,000 photographs and numerous videos at the seminary about 50 miles west of Vienna.

Kueng will have “comprehensive authority” to review all operations at the seminary and within the St. Poelten diocese, and will report directly to the pope, the Archdiocese of Vienna said. He was to begin his inquiry Wednesday.

The Vatican inquiry will examine the child porn issue as well as the discovery of photos of candidates for the priesthood kissing and fondling each other and their older religious instructors. The police investigation has avoided the priest sex issues.

The Vatican issued a one-line announcement but made no comment on the case, which has become highly embarrassing for the Vatican and the church in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Austria.

The special inspector appointment came amid demands in Austria that the bishop in charge of the seminary, Kurt Krenn, resign or be ousted. Krenn, 68, has acknowledged overall responsibility for the seminary but has refused to step down, dismissing the porn stash as part of a “schoolboy prank.”

The seminary’s director and his deputy have resigned.

Krenn has close ties to the Vatican and arranged for a visit to St. Poelten by John Paul during a 1998 pilgrimage to Austria.

Kueng’s appointment means an end to an internal inquiry that Krenn had ordered into the affair, the archdiocese said.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria’s top churchman, expressed satisfaction that the Vatican had “quickly handled” the burgeoning scandal by appointing an inspector.

“Many people are annoyed, disappointed, sad or furious” over the scandal, Schoenborn conceded. Kueng “will have wide-ranging powers during the inspection, and I think that’s important so he can work peacefully and decisively,” the cardinal said.

Krenn said in a statement Tuesday that he welcomed the Vatican inspector and that the seminary and diocese were prepared to cooperate in a “comprehensive, careful and objective investigation.”

It was unclear how long the inquiry would last.

The Vatican appoints an apostolic visitor when it receives allegations of “grave irregularities” at an institution or a diocese. It is not the first time it has done so in Austria.

In 1998, an American Benedictine monk was sent to inspect a monastery where an Austrian cardinal, Hans Hermann Groer, was accused of sexually molesting young boys. The American’s findings were never made public, but Groer later relinquished all duties in the church and spent years in exile in Germany. He died last year.

Kueng, the 63-year-old bishop of the Feldkirch diocese in southwestern Austria, is a member of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization.

On Monday, the state prosecutor charged a 27-year-old Polish student with possession and distribution of child pornography for allegedly downloading the material. The student, who has been expelled from the seminary, faces up to two years in prison if tried and convicted.

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