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Outrage grows in Austria church porn case
Updated: 2004-07-16 10:10

Two influential Roman Catholic organizations on Thursday joined other groups demanding the resignation of a bishop in charge of a seminary where officials uncovered a massive stash of child pornography.

We Are the Church, a liberal group that advocates the ordination of women and an end to the priestly vow of celibacy, said Bishop Kurt Krenn must step down in the wake of Austria's worst church scandal in nearly a decade.

"The diocese today is practically leaderless and split," the group said in a statement.

The Austrian Brotherhood Union, or OCV, the alpine nation's largest organization for Catholic lay people, urged the church to use "crisis management" to restore integrity to the bishop's office. The lurid scandal "gives a completely wrong picture of the Catholic church in Austria," it said.

Krenn has been under intense pressure to resign since authorities uncovered some 40,000 pornographic photos and numerous videos at the seminary in his diocese in St. Poelten, about 50 miles west of Vienna.

Police on Wednesday examined hard drives on computers seized at the seminary and questioned an unidentified 33-year-old Polish priest as part of a child porn investigation. Officials say other photos showed candidates for the priesthood kissing and fondling each other and their older instructors and engaging in sex games.

"Men who are preparing for the pastorate need high moral standards," Bishop Alois Schwarz of the diocese in the southwestern Austria province of Carinthia said Thursday, urging the Vatican to intervene quickly in the case.

Krenn's diocese shut down the guest book on his Web page Thursday after it was flooded with hundreds of messages of condemnation along with some expressing support and offering prayers.

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Vienna's ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse asked Rome to remove Krenn as bishop. The seminary's director, Rev. Ulrich Kuechl, already has resigned along with his deputy, Wolfgang Rothe.

Krenn, 68, who has dismissed the photos as part of a "schoolboy prank," has refused to step down.

He has launched his own internal inquiry into the affair "in the light of church morals and canon law."

The porn discovery, which was disclosed earlier this week, has shocked many in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation.

Church leaders are still trying to heal divisions caused by allegations that the late Cardinal Hermann Groer molested students at an all-male boarding school in the 1970s. Groer, who died last year, was forced by the Vatican to resign in 1995 after the charges first surfaced.

Many Austrians have left the church in disgust since the Groer scandal. Last year, 39,600 people in the nation of 8 million left, followed by 39,000 in 2002 and 33,850 in 2001, the Austria Press Agency reported Thursday, citing church statistics.

Josef Weiss, the Archdiocese of Vienna's finance director, said many churchgoers were withholding tithes and offerings and threatening to leave their parishes in the St. Poelten diocese in protest.

We Are the Church gathered a half-million signatures in Austria in 1995 and since has spread elsewhere in Europe and to the United States. The movement was instrumental in uncovering the allegations of pedophilia against Groer.

Krenn, whose close ties to the Vatican led to a visit by Pope John Paul II to his diocese in 1998, was criticized at the time for defending Groer and insisting the cardinal was innocent of the pedophilia charges.

The Vatican has not commented on the seminary case. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria's top churchman, is vacationing in France but was said to be keeping close tabs on the developments.

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