A scandal-plagued Austrian bishop announced his resignation in an interview with a local newspaper on Thursday, and according to sources, violated a gag order imposed by the Vatican by making the announcement too soon.
Bishop Kurt Krenn of St. Polten, Austria, told the newspaper Der Standard that he was resigning immediately as bishop of the diocese. The scandal erupted last month when local police arrested a Polish seminarian at the St. Polten seminary on charges of storing and disseminating child pornography on a computer at the school. Other photos found in the course of the investigation showing seminarians and priests kissing and groping were later obtained by a magazine and published.
When Bishop Krenn dismissed the depicted activities as "boyish pranks" outrage erupted in Austria and Rome finally appointed an outside bishop as an independent investigator. That bishop ordered the seminary shut down pending the results of his investigation.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Pope John Paul had asked Krenn to resign, giving health problems as the reason, but the bishop denied that he was resigning. Now, on Thursday, he has confirmed that he has offered his resignation.
"Yes, I have stepped down, and as of now I am the former bishop of St. Polten," Bishop Krenn told the newspaper. He said he had resigned voluntarily and not because of pressure from Rome. "The Pope does not force anybody to resign. He asks at the most that someone go," he said.
Meanwhile in Rome, sources confirmed that Krenn had preempted the Vatican's plans. "He wanted to preempt the Vatican so that the decision appears to be his, and not an imposed decision," they said. "We must still wait a few days before the resignation is officially accepted." The Austrian bishops conference told local media that it had no comment and waiting for an official announcement, which was expected on Friday.
Catholic World News has also learned that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, had asked in mid-September, in the name of Pope John Paul, that Bishop Krenn resign his office. The method and timing of the resignation were then to be decided by Bishop Krenn, Archbishop Girgio Zur, the apostolic nuncio to Austria, and Bishop Klaus Kung, the apostolic visitator appointed to investigate the scandal in St. Polten in July. The three men were to come to an agreement with the apostolic nuncio then communicating the decision to the Congregation for Bishop, which itself is responsible for the appointment and resignation of bishops throughout the world. It is only when the prefect finally submits the resignation to the Pope that it becomes official.