Vienna -- Pope John Paul II on Thursday named a prelate who investigated a child pornography scandal at a seminary to replace the bishop who resigned in the case, which rocked Austria's Roman Catholic Church and triggered an exodus of embittered believers.
John Paul accepted the resignation of Bishop Kurt Krenn as head of the diocese of St. Poelten and named as his successor Bishop Klaus Kueng, who had been appointed by the Vatican to investigate the scandal. Bishop Krenn had dismissed the scandal as a "childish prank."
The Austrian Bishops Conference said it hoped Bishop Kueng's appointment would help the church put the scandal behind it and enhance the "faithfulness and unity" of believers stung by the affair.
"The church is greater than its human weaknesses," Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said, calling for "a new beginning in clarity and openness."
Bishop Kueng pledged to work for "reconciliation and renewal" to stop believers in overwhelmingly Catholic Austria from leaving the church. The Archdiocese of Vienna has said more than 10,000 people formally applied to have their names removed from church rolls as of Aug. 31.
Bishop Krenn, 68, who was in charge of the seminary in St. Poelten, 80 kilometres west of Vienna, resigned last week amid an uproar over his handling of the affair.
Bishop Kueng, 64, was bishop of the diocese of Feldkirch in southwestern Austria. He is a member of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, which is highly admired by the pontiff.
He told Austrian television he will stay on as bishop of Feldkirch until the Vatican names a successor there, and he would apply "all my strength and God's help" to his new post.
Bishop Kueng was named to investigate the scandal after as many as 40,000 lurid images, including child pornography, were discovered on computers at the seminary. He ordered it shut down in August.
Police have been conducting their own criminal investigation.
A 27-year-old former seminary student from Poland was convicted last month of possessing and distributing illicit material, a federal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. He received a suspended sentence.
Earlier this week, the Austrian Bishops Conference said Bishop Kueng was its choice to succeed Bishop Krenn, but the Pope had the final say on the successor.
Austria's Catholics were shocked by revelations that some of the seminarians at the school had taken pictures of each other kissing and fondling one another and older religious instructors.
As the scandal deepened, Austria's church was shaken by two other recent sex scandals: allegations that a prominent priest molested at least 10 youths in the 1980s, and the reassignment last month of another priest accused of inappropriately touching young boys in the mid-1990s in Salzburg.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85-million (U.S.) to settle lawsuits filed by more than 500 victims of clergy sex abuse - a scandal the pope acknowledged last month had "cast a shadow" on the church.