Austria: Clergy sex abusers fired

News 24, South Africa/March 11, 2010

Vienna - Three ministers from a monastery in northern Austria have been dismissed after they were accused of sexually and physically abusing pupils in the 1980s, the head abbot revealed on Thursday.

This follows the resignation or suspension of several other priests since allegations of past sexual abuse in Austrian religious institutions arose on Tuesday.

Abbot Ambros Ebhart of Kremsmuenster monastery in Upper Austria told the press on Thursday that three ministers had been dismissed after five people came forward with accusations of sexual and physical abuse as children.

One of the padres had admitted to the abuse, Ebhart added.

Revelations of sexual abuse by clergy members in Austria first emerged on Tuesday, prompting a flood of further accusations.

A 53-year-old Austrian told national radio on Tuesday that he was abused by three clergy as a child, leading to a first resignation by one of the clerics, who had since risen to become an abbot in Salzburg.

On Wednesday, a 74-year-old priest was then suspended for abusing pupils at a Catholic boarding school in Vorarlberg between 1970 and 1982, the local diocese announced.

Abused 20 children

The current director said the school had hushed up the affair at the time and the priest had been reassigned to a neighbouring province and made to undergo therapy.

But he remained a priest.

Meanwhile, another cleric who had reportedly abused some 20 children in southern Styria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, handed in his resignation on Wednesday, Bishop Paul Iby said.

The unidentified priest, who admitted the abuse to the weekly magazine Falter, insisting he had been "clean" for 25 years, had also been sent to therapy but had been allowed to continue teaching in different schools, the magazine said.

On Thursday, dioceses across the country said they had seen a jump in the number of reported abuse cases since the scandal broke, although not all involved sexual abuse and the claims had yet to be substantiated.

Dismay and shame

They also expressed fear that the new revelations would lead large numbers of Catholics to leave the Church, in a country with an already dwindling number of faithful.

Meanwhile, Austrian religious orders apologised to the victims on Thursday and expressed shock at the number of abuse cases that had come to the surface in the last few days.

"That fills us with dismay and shame," several orders said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Vienna's archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called for an unflinching examination of the possible roots behind the scandal.

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