A Case Like Ours!

Thanks to Viennese Catholic activist Friedrich Griess and Italian Catholic blogger Sandavi, I’ve learned that there was another case of episcopal abuse that was startlingly similar to our case in Guam.

A Cardinal Archbishop is accused of sexual molestation by former  students at an all-male Catholic high school.  He vehemently denied the accusations, calling them “defamatory and destructive“.  Powerful churchmen in the Vatican support  the Cardinal.  More allegations arise.  Even the Pope is in denial.  A Vatican investigation ensues, but it is slowed to a crawl by highly ranked members of the Curia.  The Cardinal is eventually stripped of his duties and is exiled, but the Church undertakes a meaningful outreach to the victims only after many years have passed, and the Cardinal never does issue a real apology.

Does that sound familiar, Guam?  It’s the story of Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna.

A cardinal is accused: the Groër case

Dennis Coday | Apr. 4, 2014 NCR Today (National Catholic Reporter).  Click here for the original story.

Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer
Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer

In late 1994, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër was preparing for a slow transition into retirement. He had completed eight years as archbishop of Vienna, and the previous October he had turned 75. He submitted his mandatory letter of resignation, but Pope John Paul II asked him to stay on.

March 27, 1995, a weekly magazine, Profil, published an interview with Josef Hartmann, 37, who alleged that from 1972 to 1976 when he was a seminarian, then-Fr. Groër, his seminary teacher, had had sex with him repeatedly. There was no formal church response to the allegations, but lay Catholics and some clerics called for an investigation; others called for Groër’s

April 4, Groër was re-elected president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. A Gallup poll released then found that 69 percent of regular churchgoers thought Groër should quit as archbishop. On April 6, he resigned as conference president, and the next day the new conference president, while defending Groër, suggested that the cardinal submit to an investigation, but said that was a Vatican matter.

April 8, Groër published in a local newspaper his first public statement. He denied the allegations, calling them “defamatory and destructive.” Profil and two other publications ran more stories, quoting other former students, most unnamed, who said that the future cardinal had engaged in sexual activity with them.

April 13, the Vatican named Groër’s 50-year-old auxiliary, Bishop Christoph Schönborn, coadjutor, giving him the right of succession to the see of Vienna. The announcement came without comment or explanation. Lay and clerical church associations, youth movements and theology faculties continued to call for an investigation of Groër or for his resignation.

May 15, Groër issued his second and last public comment on the allegations, saying that he was keeping silent because he found it difficult to defend himself. John Paul and Groër met privately at the Vatican May 23; no statement was issued.

Sept. 14, Groër’s ninth anniversary as archbishop of Vienna, John Paul announced he had accepted Groër’s resignation. The pope sent a three-page letter to Austria’s bishops that sharply criticized the “violent attacks on the honorableness” of Groër and said that Christ also faced “unjust accusations.” A few weeks later, Groër was installed as prior of the Benedictine monastery in Maria Roggendorf, Austria.

Jan. 5, 1998, as new allegations of past homosexual misconduct with students and adults surfaced, Austrian Catholic media reported that Groër was leaving his post as prior.

Feb. 3, Schönborn announced an investigation of Groër was “imminent” but offered no details. The Vatican couldn’t confirm the report and had no comment.

Feb. 12, the Vatican confirmed that Fr. Marcel Rooney, the U.S.-born abbot primate of the Benedictines, would investigate charges of sexual misconduct against Groër. He was to visit the monastery in Austria where Groër was living.

Feb. 23, Groër met with John Paul at the Vatican. The Vatican press office would only say, “The meeting was private.”

March 2, four of the six bishops who headed Austrian dioceses said they had “arrived at a moral certainty” that the accusations of sexual misconduct against Groër were “essentially accurate,” and asked the cardinal to make a public defense or a public apology. Neither Groër nor the Vatican commented.

March 6, Rooney told Austrian media that he had completed a six-day visit and would file a report with the Holy See. The report was never made public.

April 8, Austrian bishops issued a statement saying they had appealed to John Paul “to bring the burden of the Groër matter to an end soon.” The pope was the “only person responsible,” the bishops said.

April 14, Groër announced that he would “honor a request by the Holy Father to give up the duties I have been performing.” He made no mention of the accusations against him.

April 17, Schönborn publicly apologized “for everything by which my predecessor and other church authorities have wronged people entrusted to them.” He also offered assistance to those who might have been harmed by Groër.

May 6, the Austrian bishops’ conference reported that a gravely ill Groër had moved to a German convent of an order specializing in caring for the old and the sick.

June 19-21, John Paul made a pastoral visit to Austria. He made no public reference to Groër. The text of his private meeting with Austrian bishops was released later; it read: “Like every house that has special rooms that are not open to all guests,” the church needs “rooms for discussions behind closed doors.”

March 24, 2003, Groër died of pneumonia at a hospital outside Vienna where he was being treated for cancer. In a telegram of condolence to the Vienna archdiocese, John Paul said Groër had
served “with great love for Christ and his church” and prayed that he would be “granted the eternal reward that the Lord himself promised to his faithful servants.”

Hans Groer, 83; Austrian Cardinal in Sex Scandal

March 25, 2003, from the Associated Press.  Click here for the original article.

Retired Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, forced by the Vatican to relinquish his church duties in 1998 amid allegations that he had sexually molested young boys, has died. He was 83.

Groer died of pneumonia Sunday night at a hospital in St. Poelten, about 40 miles west of Vienna, where he was being treated for cancer, said the cardinal’s former secretary, Michael Dinhobel. The famed Pummerin bell in Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral tolled Monday to mark Groer’s death.

Pope John Paul II sent a telegram of condolence, saying the cardinal had led the Archdiocese of Vienna “with great love for Christ and his church.”

Groer’s successor, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, sought to steer attention away from Groer’s scandalous past.

In view of death, the painful questions of the past may be put in God’s hands. That applies to Cardinal Groer as well as to any other Christian,” said Schoenborn, among several top Austrian clerics who visited Groer in the days before his death.

Groer was cardinal of Vienna from 1986 to 1995, when allegations first surfaced that he had molested students at an all-male Catholic high school in the early 1970s.

Under pressure from church and lay groups, Groer resigned later that year as head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. In 1998, Pope John Paul II ordered him to relinquish all church duties, and Groer went into months of Vatican-imposed exile near Dresden, Germany.

Groer never admitted any guilt, but the scandal was the worst since World War II to rock the Roman Catholic Church in Austria. The Vatican drew sharp criticism from many Austrians for taking three years to act.

Eight in 10 of the country’s 8 million people identify themselves as Catholics, but thousands have left the church every year, citing the Groer affair, the growing worldwide priest- pedophilia scandal and other issues, such as the Vatican’s refusal to sanction birth control and the ordination of women.

Born in Vienna on Oct. 13, 1919, Groer moved with his parents to Czechoslovakia in 1929 and lived there for a decade, attending Austrian schools. He studied for the priesthood at the Hollabrunn seminary, and was ordained in 1942.

Before the allegations of pedophilia surfaced, Groer had been well-liked by older churchgoers and some younger conservatives, and had sought to reach out to more liberal Catholics.

The scandal began in March 1998 when a newsmagazine reported charges by a former seminary student that Groer, his religion instructor, had abused him repeatedly in the early 1970s.

Other former students at the all-male school in Hollabrunn, 40 miles north of Vienna, came forward with similar charges. State prosecutors never became involved because the statute of
limitations for sexual abuse of a minor had long since expired when the matter came to light. Groer had applied for retirement in 1994, when he turned 75, but John Paul left him in his post.

A funeral Mass is scheduled April 4 at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Archdiocese of Vienna said.