Vatican begins child-porn scandal inquiry

A special Vatican inspector began his inquiry on Wednesday into the discovery of a vast cache of child pornography at a seminary where candidates for the priesthood photographed themselves kissing and fondling each other.

Austrian Bishop Klaus Kueng was appointed on Tuesday as Pope John Paul II’s “apostolic visitor” to deal with a scandal that has deeply embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church. Kueng said he had already spoken with Kurt Krenn, the embattled churchman in charge of the seminary.

Kueng told reporters he plans to interview other officials with the St Poelten diocese, about 80km west of Vienna, where the seminary is located. He will report his findings directly to the pope.

“My task is to ensure clarity and create new confidence” in a church battered by the affair, he told a news conference.

Krenn, the bishop who oversees the diocese, has been under intense pressure to resign since authorities disclosed last week that they found about 40 000 photos and numerous videos, including child pornography, on seminary computers.

Krenn, who has close ties to the Vatican and arranged for a visit to St Poelten by the pope during a 1998 pilgrimage to Austria, has dismissed the find as part of a “schoolboy prank” and has refused to step down.

His supporters said on Wednesday they have collected 2 000 signatures on a petition urging the pope to ensure a fair and just inquiry.

“Holy Father, please protect your bishop,” the group said in a letter accompanying the petition, which Austrian media said was sent to Rome.

Authorities have launched a separate criminal investigation into the child-porn aspect of the case.
Earlier this week, they charged a 27-year-old former seminary student from Poland with possessing and distributing the illicit material, a federal offence punishable by up to two years in prison.

Kueng told Austrian television in an interview late on Tuesday night that his inquiry does not automatically signal the impending removal of Krenn as bishop, but he said Krenn is “in a very difficult situation”.

Kueng said published photos that purportedly showed young priests kissing “made me very sad”, but he cautioned that the authenticity of the images would have to be carefully checked.

The Vatican appoints an apostolic visitor when it receives allegations of “grave irregularities” at an institution or a diocese.

In 1998, Rome sent an American Benedictine monk to Austria to inspect a Catholic boarding school where the late cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was accused of sexually molesting young boys. Groer later relinquished all his duties in the church. He died last year.—Sapa-AP