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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own