Cardinal silent on sex claims

Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer maintained a dignified pose and spoke eloquently about the painful losses suffered by so many in the Second World War. At times, he became animated, then sombre. But at no time during the service marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Vienna did he betray the inner anguish he must have felt over the past month, ever since he was accused of sexual abuse by a former pupil at a Catholic seminary just outside the city.

The allegations - amplified by similar claims from other former pupils - have plunged the Catholic Church in Austria into its worst crisis since the war. They have accentuated divisions between conservatives and liberals, and have outraged Austria's deeply God-fearing folk, many of whom refuse to accept that they can be true.

Far from reassuring his flock of his innocence, Cardinal Groer has remained extraordinarily silent. Apart from a belated and vague statement of denial published in a Viennese paper two weeks after the allegations were made, he has refused to comment on the affair.

"In the end it is not the substance of the accusations or even whether they are true or not that has caused the greatest harm," said Wolfgang Bergmann of the Catholic charity Caritas. "It is the reaction that has really hurt. Many of the church's most active members have been left feeling uncertain, ashamed and helpless.''

At a time when the church in Austria, as elsewhere in Europe, is facing a steady decline in membership and importance, the scandal is the last thing it needed. The numbers of those leaving (around 35,000 a year out of a total membership of 6 million) is likely to increase. As Wolfgang Beilner, a theologian, warned, the church could be heading for an "unimaginable catastrophe".

It is hardly the outcome Cardinal Groer could have expected when he sat down to pen his thoughts on one of the subjects currently exercising Catholics in Austria: whether or not divorcees who remarry should be allowed to take communion. As a staunch conservative, Cardinal Groer said they should not, and in an article published in February in a church magazine, he backed up his argument by saying that no adulterers or child abusers would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

His comments, some of which were reproduced in Profil magazine, incensed Joseph Hartmann, a former pupil at a Catholic seminary in Hollabrunn, who claimed that as a teenager in the early 1970s, he was regularly abused by Cardinal Groer, then a teacher at the seminary. Mr Hartmann's allegations, reproduced in Profil, were then supplemented by similar claims from other ex-pupils, which in turn spawned further allegations against other clergy.

In marked contrast to Cardinal Groer, August Wanger, a Salzburg priest who was accused this month of abusing a male pupil 30 years ago, went on radio immediately and owned up. Despite the severity of his offence, Fr Wanger's honesty turned him into something of a national hero. He is still allowed to work as a teacher.

Fr Wanger's example increased the pressure on Cardinal Groer to respond to the accusations - or resign as Primate of Austria and Archbishop of Vienna. The strong liberal wing in the church also stepped up its calls for more openness.

In partial response to the criticism, the Cardinal resigned from his post as the Chairman of the Austrian Bishops' Conference earlier this month. In what many interpreted as a further attempt to limit the damage, the Vatican then appointed Bishop Christoph Schnborn to be Cardinal Groer's deputy, with automatic right of succession.

Ironically, when Cardinal Groer turned 75 last October, he submitted his resignation to Rome but was asked to stay on. Any prompt backtracking on that decision now would undoubtedly be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Church sources in Vienna suggest that Cardinal Groer may be allowed to step down in the summer and to retire to a Benedictine monastery. In the meantime, with all those eyes still trained on him, he puts as brave a face on it as he can.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice