VIENNA -- A papal emissary investigating suspected homosexuality and possession of child pornography among student priests shut down the seminary at the center of the scandal yesterday, acknowledging his probe had bared "very painful" disclosures of sexual misconduct.
Bishop Klaus Kueng announced the decision three weeks after Pope John Paul II appointed him to examine allegations that seminarians were hoarding child pornography and had snapped photos showing themselves fondling one another.
"A new beginning is necessary," Kueng said in remarks broadcast on state-run ORF television during a news conference. "I am closing the seminary right away."
Kueng later qualified his remarks, saying the closure would be "temporary." But he gave no indication of how long the baroque seminary in the city of St. Poelten, which had trained young men for the priesthood for more than 200 years, would be shuttered. He did not elaborate on what his investigation had found, beyond saying it seemed "active homosexual relationships took shape."
The Vatican inspector had promised a "brisk investigation" and pledged to do whatever it took to restore credibility to Austria's church.
Since the first discovery of pornographic images late last year, authorities have found about 40,000 photos and numerous videos, including child pornography, on computers at the seminary in the diocese of St. Poelten.
Other photographs of seminary students kissing and fondling one another and their older religious instructors at the seminary also have been found. Some photos were published in Austrian media and triggered a public uproar that prompted the pope to dispatch Kueng to contain the scandal.
Prosecutors investigating the child pornography allegations in the case have charged a 27-year-old former seminary student from Poland with possessing and distributing illicit material. He was expected to go on trial today.