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Catholic Church Is Rocked by Alleged Sex Scandal

March 31, 1995

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Allegations that the head of the country’s Roman Catholic Church sexually abused a pupil more than 20 years ago have thrown Austria’s church into a crisis.

In predominantly Catholic Austria, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer is the third most-important figure, after the president and the president of parliament.

Reports of the alleged scandal have caused a sensation, filing the headlines of major newspapers.

In a report published Monday by the magazine Profil, Josef Hartmann, a 37-year-old former seminary student, alleged that Groer, then a religion instructor, abused him repeatedly in the early 1970s.

Another magazine, News, on Thursday cited claims by former boarding school pupils that Groer had molested boys. But it said a majority of Hartmann’s former schoolmates from Hollabrunn, about 38 miles north of Vienna, whom it interviewed said they didn’t know anything about possible sexual abuse.

The 75-year-old cardinal, whose formal offer to retire last year has not been accepted by the pope, has kept silent and kept out of public view.

Hartmann told Austrian radio and television that he decided to go public after a recent statement by Groer that those who abuse children would not ``inherit heaven.″

Monsignor Franz Merschl, chairman of the priests’ council of the Vienna archdiocese, said he was ``outraged and dismayed″ by the unsubstantiated charges against Austria’s top church official.

Bishop Kurt Krenn also strongly defended Groer _ even though he could succeed the cardinal.

But other clerics demanded that Groer answer the charges.

``We want to hear a clear word from the mouth of the archbishop that Hartmann’s accusations are incorrect,″ said Bruno Primtshofer, head of the Institute for Church Law at Vienna University’s Theology Faculty.

Gerwin Komma, head of the Jesuit Order in Austria, added that ``declarations of solidarity won’t do.″

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