Vienna -- The discovery of a vast cache of photos depicting apparent sexual activity between Roman Catholic clerics and student priests has led to resignations and a probe by church officials.
A Catholic church panel in the Sankt Poelten diocese, west of the capital, agreed to the probe yesterday after the respected news magazine Profil reported that as many as 40,000 photos and an undisclosed number of films, including child pornography, were found a year ago on computers at the local seminary.
It published several images purportedly showing priests and seminarians kissing and fondling each other. Others, it said, showed them engaging in orgies and sex games. The child porn had been downloaded from Web sites mostly based in Poland, Profil said.
The seminary's director, the Rev. Ulrich Kuechl, has resigned along with his deputy, Wolfgang Rothe.
Kurt Krenn, Sankt Poelten's 68-year-old bishop, dismissed the photos as depicting nothing more than "youthful pranks" having "nothing to do with homosexuality." He said he has no intention of resigning but, in a written statement, did allow that he "may have made some wrong personnel decisions" at the seminary.
Krenn, whose close ties to Pope John Paul II led to a papal visit to his modest diocese in 1998, has been criticized by lay Catholic groups for his staunch conservatism. His nonchalance yesterday drew swift and scathing reaction.
"Collecting child pornography cannot be dismissed as a prank,'' said Thomas Huber, a Green party politician.
Hannes Jarolim, a spokesman for the opposition Socialist party, yesterday urged the Interior Ministry to launch a criminal investigation.
Public prosecutor Walter Nemec said police were examining the material, which he said showed seminarians "in perverse situations together with their superiors.''
The Austrian Bishops Conference pledged a full, swift internal investigation. The Vatican had no comment.