Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Priest orgy scandal hits Catholic church


The powerful Austrian Catholic church was plunged into its second big sex scandal in a decade on Monday when a seminary run by arch-conservatives was alleged to be the site of orgies among young priests and their teachers.

The seminary in St Polten, west of Vienna, comes under the authority of the conservative Bishop Kurt Krenn.

The Vienna news magazine Profil has published pictures of priests and students engaged in sexual acts, prompting an uproar, emergency meetings of the church leadership, and calls for Bishop Krenn's resignation.

The pictures were said to be part of a cache of some 40,000 photos and child pornography videos found by church officials on computers at the seminary a year ago. While the Austrian Bishops' Conference issued a statement declaring that "homosexuality and pornography" could have no place at the seminary, Bishop Krenn refused to resign and appeared to compound the crisis by saying: "This has got nothing to do with homosexuality. It's just boys' pranks."

The Austrian church experienced its worst modern crisis in 1995 when its then head, Cardinal Hans-Hermann Groer, was accused of pedophilia. Senior church figures eventually found that he had been molesting boys for years. He was forced to retire, and died last year.

In a country that is officially 90 percent Catholic, the scandal saw thousands leaving the church and hundreds of thousands joining a petition campaign for reform.

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