Pornography stirs up scandal at Austrian seminary

VIENNA, Austria – An official with the Archdiocese of Vienna urged the Vatican on Wednesday to oust a Roman Catholic bishop in charge of a seminary where candidates for the priesthood hoarded child pornography and photos of themselves kissing and fondling each other.

The cleric, Bishop Kurt Krenn, dismissed the photos as part of a “schoolboy prank” and accused critics of exaggerating the case – the worst church scandal in Austria since allegations of pedophilia brought down a cardinal nearly a decade ago.

Police examined hard drives on computers seized at the seminary in St. Poelten, 50 miles west of Vienna, as part of a child pornography investigation.

Officials said the discs contained some 40,000 photographs and numerous videos, including child pornography and photos of young seminarians kissing and fondling each other and their older instructors and engaging in sex games.

As some of the photos began appearing in Austrian newsmagazines – depicting students in sexual situations while clad in black shirts and priestly collars – calls mounted for Krenn to resign.

Only if Krenn steps down “will an extensive investigation be possible,” said Helmut Schueller, the Vienna Archdiocese’s ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse.

The seminary’s director, the Rev. Ulrich Kuechl, already has resigned along with his deputy, Wolfgang Rothe.

But Krenn, 68, refused to step down and rebuffed his critics.

In a nationally televised interview, he conceded overall responsibility for the seminary, but rebuked the national bishops conference for pressing for his resignation and insisted the furor was overblown.

“Although these things naturally fall into my competence, I had nothing to do with them,” he said, calling the uproar “an exaggeration” and “a diocesan matter.”

Krenn’s spokesman, Michael Dinhobl, told the Austria Press Agency the bishop launched his own investigation Wednesday. The internal probe by a six-member committee was an attempt “to examine the allegations … in the light of church morals and canon law,” Dinhobl said.

The Vatican, which condemns homosexuality, has refused to comment.

The porn discovery, which was disclosed earlier this week, has scandalized 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.

The latest scandal has troubled Austrians on two fronts: Many are angered by the child pornography, which authorities say was downloaded mostly from a Web site in Poland, and the faithful are disturbed and disillusioned at the notion of prospective young priests cavorting with their elders.

The affair opens “a vexing debate over when borders between homosexuality and pedophilia, between the voluntary sexual practices of adults and the sexual abuse of children, become blurred,” columnist Thomas Kramar wrote in a commentary for the daily Die Presse.

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.

Krenn said published photos showing seminary students French-kissing each other were taken at the end of a holiday celebration and were merely traditional “Christmas kisses.”

“It had absolutely nothing at all to do with homosexuality,” and those involved will not be punished, he said.

Schueller, the archdiocese ombudsman, rejected that notion Wednesday, telling Austrian radio: “It is completely clear that the photos concerned homoerotic encounters.”

Many of the photos were taken by an unidentified 33-year-old Polish-born priest at the seminary who used a digital camera, according to authorities in the province of Lower Austria.

A police spokesman said it could be difficult to prove who was responsible for downloading the child pornography because the computers were shared by students and instructors.

Associated Press

Austrian Bishop Kurt Krenn says his seminarians were only involved in a “schooboy prank.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Everett
Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Mt. Pilchuck covered in snow is barely visible through the clouds as the sun breaks through illuminating raindrops as they fall off of the Mountain Loop Highway on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Active’ weather brings rain, snow, hail, fresh powder to Snohomish County

Up to an inch of snow could accumulate in the lowlands. Three inches of rain could fall in Darrington. And Stevens Pass is “doing quite well.”

Joanne Fisher, right, a meat wrapper with the Marysville Albertsons, hands a leaflet to a shopper during an informational campaign on  Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Fisher was one of about a dozen grocery store workers handing out leaflets to shoppers about the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
US sues to block merger of grocery giants Kroger, Albertsons

Grocery workers in Snohomish County and elsewhere have argued the merger would stymie competition and hurt workers.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee during its meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, where the panel indicated it would not move ahead with legislation to cap residential rent increases at 7%. The move effectively killed the bill for the 2024 legislative session. (Bill Lucia/Washington State Standard)
Plan for 7% statewide cap on rent increases fails in Olympia

State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, told reporters the bill did not have enough support to move it forward.

People look out onto Mountain Loop Mine from the second floor hallway of Fairmount Elementary on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mining company ordered to stop work next to school south of Everett

After operating months without the right paperwork, OMA Construction applied for permits last week. The county found it still violates code.

Shoppers cross Alderwood Mall Parkway after leaving the mall and walking through its parking lot on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lynnwood police seek 3 suspects after pursuit, brief shootout

The driver of a stolen car intentionally hit a teen boy Sunday, officers said. Police pursued the suspects near I-5.

Starbucks employee Zach Gabelein outside of the Mill Creek location where he works on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘We cannot keep up’: Mill Creek Starbucks workers file for unionization

The cafe’s crew joins the ranks of the 624 stores nationwide, including two other locations in Snohomish County.

The Nimbus Apartments are pictured on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County has the highest rent in the state. Could this bill help?

In one year, rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Snohomish County went up 20%. A bill seeks to cap any increases at 7%.

The Westwood Rainier is one of the seven ships in the Westwood line. The ships serve ports in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Asia. (Photo provided by Swire Shipping)
Westwood Shipping Lines, an Everett mainstay, has new name

The four green-hulled Westwood vessels will keep their names, but the ships will display the Swire Shipping flag.

A Snohomish County no trespassing sign hangs on a fence surrounding the Days Inn on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Meth cleanup at Edmonds motel-shelter made matters worse, report says

Contamination has persisted at two motels Snohomish County bought to turn into shelters in 2022. In January, the county cut ties with two cleanup agencies.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.