The Catholic Church's Abu
No, there was no torture or
interrogation involved. No women either. They
were all allegedly willing participantsand,
to a man, they were men. One among their ranks
also took photos that were published on Monday by
the Austrian news magazine Profil.
Rothe, vice rector of the Sankt Poelten seminary,
in two compromising poses with unidentified
showed seminarians and priests from
Austrias Sankt Poelten seminary fondling
and kissing one another and engaging in sex
games. Profil also reported that some
40,000 pornographic images and films were
downloaded to the seminarys computers,
including photographs depicting acts of
pedophilia and bestiality.
German-language media outlets have been saturated
this week with reports of the Austrian seminary
scandal chock oblock full of lurid details
in what has become the Catholic Churchs Abu
Ghraib. Headlines such as "Seminary orgy
rocks Church in Austria" (Irish Examiner),
"Church probes perverse pictures"
(Toronto Star), and "Porn case could torpedo
bishop" (The Guardian), made news from
Britain to Australia to America.
immediately prompted the resignation of two
seminary officials, an internal investigation by
the Austrian bishops conference, and calls for a
criminal investigation since the scandal involves
a large cache of child pornographyillegal
in Austria as in most other countries.
officials also told Austrian Radio that they will
ask the Vatican to remove Kurt Krenn as bishop of
the Sankt Poelten diocese. Martin Walchhofer, who
supervises the nations other Catholic
seminaries, asserted that Krenn was ultimately
responsible for the scandal and "must answer
before the church and before God for all of
this." (Krenn pulled Sankt Poelten's
seminary from the Austrian system, claiming that
the other Austrian seminaries were "too
Schueller, the Archdiocese of Viennas
ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse, said that
only if Bishop Krenn steps down as leader of the
Sankt Poelten diocese "will an extensive
investigation be possible."
whether he intended to resign over this scandal,
Krenn said bluntly: "No."
68-year-old bishop dismissed the Profil accusations
as "groundless." He refereed to the
photographic evidence in hand as "harmless
pranks" that "have nothing to do with
nationally televised interview, Krenn said the
seminary furor was overblown, calling the Profil
report an "exaggeration." Referring
to a photo of two seminarians French-kissing one
another, the indignant bishop defended the young
men by saying the photos were taken at the end of
a Christmas party, and the seminarians and their
instructors were merely partaking in traditional
did admit, however, in a public statement that he
"may have made some wrong personnel
decisions" at the seminary.
seminary rector Ulrich Kuechl and vice-rector
Wolfgang Rothe resigned their positions at the
school. According to Profil, Kuechl and
Rothe, both appointed by Krenn, had homosexual
relations with students, using pedophile photos
for stimulation. Both men were pictured in
compromising positions with their seminarian
students, prompting some to wonder if the priests
had abused their positions to pressure
seminarians to partake in the ungodly activities
that have allegedly been a staple of life at
Sankt Poelten for at least several years now.
Ulrich Kuechl (left) and Vice-rector Wolfgang
Rothe (right) resigned from the Sankt Poelten
seminary earlier this week
now resigned, neither Kuechl nor Rothe admit to
any guilt on their part. Kuechl characterized the
Profil report as "pure lies" and
threatened to sue for libel. When presented the
photographic evidence, he, like his boss Krenn,
said the photos were "open to
interpretation." He compared the actions in
the photos to the way soccer players handle one
another after a particularly good play.
his resignation, Kuechl added: "The slander
spread in the media by a former seminary member
against myself has made such a negative
impression on public opinion that my further
conduct of office would probably be a great
burden for the seminary and diocese."
doesnt stop there. In order to understand
that the homosexual transgressions were not mere
anomalies, Profil quotes one unnamed
seminarian who claims that two fellow students
considered themselves a same-sex
couple and received the
sacrament" of marriage in a
accusation, Kuechl also says balderdash.
Austrians who see no real problem with grown men
kissing and fondling each other in the halls of a
Catholic seminary (or anywhere else) seem
scandalized by the revelation of child
party spokesman Hannes Jarolim, for example,
urged Austrias Interior Ministry to launch
a criminal investigation into the charges.
the U.S. media thus far have tended to downplay
the gay sex parties and honed in on the charges
of child pornography.
are the key
Homosexual sex scandals are, regrettably, nothing
new to Catholic seminaries. Denial, avoidance and
cover-up are also old hat in these same circles.
If it wasnt for an unnamed 33-year-old
Polish-born priest who took photos of the
misdeeds with his compact digital camera, there
would have been no resignations, no calls for an
investigation, no emergency meetings. There would
only have been the characteristic obfuscation and
denials on the part of Church leaders.
Conservative Catholics would have defended the
priests and bishop, calling the accusations false
and vilifying the whistleblowers as
psychologically unfit. At the same time, liberal
Catholics would have dismissed the accusations of
homosexual revelry as the product of an
overactive conservative imagination. Or they may
have simply ignored the whole issue.
certainly the pattern Church watchers have
observed over the past decade on these issues.
When my seminary exposé book Goodbye, Good
Men came out in 2002, detailing similar
incidents (for men kissing in seminary hallways,
for example, see page 147), the claims made by
dozens of former seminarians who had experienced
the pressures of the so-called "gay
subculture" at seminary were dismissed in
many cases as nothing less than pure fantasy.
fact that certain seminaries became widely known
by nicknames such as The Pink Palace, Notre
Flame, and the Faggot Factory, seminary rectors
and bishops could think of nothing more original
than to deny that anything was wrong, calling the
charges scurrilous and groundless. Nothing less
than compromising photos published in Newsweek
would have made them eat their words.
Daughters of Trent
The Austrian scandal doesnt come as a shock
to those who have been hearing the outrageous
details of goings-on inside many Catholic
seminaries. What does come as a surprise to many
is that such bacchanalia fests would take place
at seminaries known to liberals as
"arch-conservative" (a completely
meaningless label) and directed by priests and a
bishop regarded as theologically orthodox.
this speaks to a different state of affairs in
Austria than in the United States. But then
again, maybe not. The so-called Daughters of
Trent, tradition-minded gay priests and
seminarians, have their own foothold in the
American Church. And so much more scandalous are
they who practice the opposite of what they
groups, for example, have had their share of
lurid homosexual scandals in recent years. Rev.
Carlos Urritigoity, the founder and Superior
General of the Scranton-based Society of St. John
was suspended for sexual molestation of male
students, but only after years of denials and
obfuscation by the priest, his society, and
Scrantons Bishop James Timlin, known as one
of the more conservative American prelates. To be
sure, candid photos would have spared a lot of
needless scandal in this case.
Institute of Christ the King, a venerable
international order of traditional Catholic
priests loyal to Rome, suffered the scandal of
its North American superior, Fr. Timothy Svea,
being sentenced to 18-months in jail for tying a
16-year-old boy to his bedpost in the interest of
a wonderful thing to have priests who will say
the traditional Mass," wrote Roger
McCaffery, former editor of The Latin Mass
in a 2002 editorial, "but lets stop
the mindless cheerleading and face reality. The
law of averages suggests that there are more
scandals to come on the Catholic right."
non-traditionalist but conservative circles, Fr.
Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Rome-based
Legionaries of Christ, has been accused by at
least eight former seminarians of gross sexual
abuse. Despite mounds of credible evidence
stopping short of photographs, Maciel and his
order have steadfastly maintained the
now-octogenarian priests innocence and
attacked his accusers as anti-Catholic agitators,
despite the fact that one of them is still a
priest and not one has benefited either
personally or financially by making the
accusations. This whole sorry epic is recounted
in Jason Berrys Vows of Silence,
although the book risks being wholly dismissed as
empty polemic due to the authors
thinly-veiled liberal agenda.
Austrian scandal is just another chip away at the
false sense of security many conservative and
traditional Catholics once had in thinking
theyd be safe in trusting the clerics they
admire for their ostensible orthodoxy and
commitment to the Catholic faith.
Kurt Krenn is at the epicenter of the Sankt
ongoing scandal of Kurt Krenn
Its not clear how many Austrian Catholics,
conservative or otherwise , have ever admired
Sankt Poeltens Bishop Kurt Krenn.
defiance in such delicate matters is nothing new.
Known as a conservative if reactionary prelate in
a country of liberal bishops (most more liberal
than their American counterparts), Krenn made
headline news in Austria in 1998 when he
staunchly defended Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer,
also a conservative, against pedophilia charges.
The cardinal was later forced by the Vatican to
resign his post as the Archbishop of Vienna after
it became clear he had been molesting students at
an all-make boarding school for years.
affair came to a head during Pope John Paul
IIs 1998 trip to Austria. The Pope was
greeted in Sankt Poelten by 1,000 black balloons
in the hands of Catholics protesting Bishop Kurt
Krenn. They also distributed leaflets urging the
Pope to sack the bishop. Krenns defiant
support of a guilty pedophile cardinal was, for
them, the last straw.
say, these Catholics now have more ammunition to
use against the unpopular Krenn. They also have a
lot more allies in the campaign to oust the
rift between Krenn and Cardinal Christoph
Schoenborn has been ongoing for years, and
judging from statements coming out of various
Church officials in Austria, Krenn is not going
to enjoy much support from his fellow churchmen.
Homosexual orgies and child pornography at
Krenns seminary is over the topeven
of course, a silver lining to this scandal, as
with most that play out in this way: reasonable
people can no longer deny the sickness. Its
exposed now and needs more exposure, until the
situation heals properly. That means a thorough
cleaning of the Augean stables.
S. Rose is the author a several books including
the New York Times bestseller Goodbye,
Good Men. He is Executive Editor