A cardinal is accused: the Groer case

by Dennis Coday

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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 resignation.

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 “essential 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 publically 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.”

[Compiled from Catholic News Service archives.]

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