By Hilary White

VIENNA, March 31, 2010 ( – The Catholic Church in Austria has set up an independent investigation as hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse of young people by priests have begun to surface. Waltraud Klasnic, a former governor of the Alpine republic’s southern province of Styria will head the investigation, which will be funded by the Church but not staffed with clerics.

The cardinal archbishop of Vienna and the head of the Austrian bishops’ conference, Christoph Schönborn, told television news on Saturday, “We want to move inquiries into these allegations away from the church and assign them to an independent victims’ representative. Most importantly, we want to guarantee independence.”

“The independence that everybody is calling for will be guaranteed.”

One of the tasks Klasnic and her team will undertake will be to decide the amount of compensation paid out to victims.

Following similar revelations in Ireland and Germany, Austria is experiencing a flurry of reports of cases of sexual abuse by clergy, largely dating from the 1970s and early 1980s. The suspected perpetrators were never prosecuted.

On Tuesday, the ombudsman offices of the Church of Austria reported that a total of 566 cases of various kinds of abuse by clergy had been brought to their attention this year, 27 per cent of which were cases of sexual abuse. 174 of these were from the Vienna archdiocese and 115 from Innsbruck.

Last week, the diocese of Graz-Seckau reported that a priest who admitted he had abused a 17-year-old boy 20 years ago has resigned. A spokesman for the diocese said that two other priests have been suspended, one having been convicted of committing a homosexual act with a 17-year-old and another of “exhibitionism.” Both cases date back 15-20 years.

Earlier this month, three ministers of Kremsmuenster monastery in Upper Austria were dismissed after complaints of sexual and physical abuse were made by five individuals. At the same time, a 74 year-old priest of the diocese of Feldkirch was suspended after complaints of abuse by former pupils at a Catholic boarding school in Vorarlberg between 1970 and 1982.

A priest of the diocese of Eisenstadt resigned in early March after admitting to having abused 20 children in southern Styria in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The priest, who has not been identified, admitted the abuse in an interview with the weekly magazine Falter, and insisted that he had been “clean” for 25 years. He had been sent to undergo psychiatric therapy but had been allowed to continue teaching in different schools, the magazine said.


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