VIENNA ( - The Austrian cardinal who resigned as archbishop of Vienna over allegations of sexual abuse 20 years ago announced on Tuesday that he is relinquishing all ecclesiastical duties and will leave Austria at the request of Pope John Paul II.

      Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, 78, said in a statement issued by the Vatican's apostolic nuncio in Austria said, "In the past three years, there have been several, often inaccurate assertions about my person. I beg God and people for forgiveness, if I have burdened myself with guilt." A spokesman for the nuncio said the statement was written by the cardinal himself.

      The cardinal has never denied or confirmed the allegations made in 1995 by former students and monks that he molested or propositioned them. He is expected to leave Austria -- where the scandal has caused controversy over the Church's handling of the complaints -- before the Holy Father arrives in June for a visit. The spokesman said Cardinal Groer would leave for an as-yet undisclosed location abroad "very soon," most likely a Benedictine monastery.

      The cardinal will have to forfeit all activities associated with his position as bishop and cardinal for life, including the right to attend the conclave electing a new pope when that occurs. Cardinal Groer stepped down as archbishop of Vienna and primate of the Church in Austria when the allegations were made public in 1995. In February of this year, his replacement, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, and three other bishops announced they had come to "the moral certainty" that the allegations were true and asked the Vatican to investigate and take action. No civil or legal proceedings have ever been filed in the case.

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April 16, 1998 volume 9, no. 74         DAILY CATHOLIC