Austrian Church victims call for government investigation

Vienna, Austria - Austrian victims of abuse by Catholic clergy called on the government Thursday to start its own investigation of the hundreds of alleged cases that have surfaced in the past weeks.

So far, the Church has established an independent commission, and prosecutors are looking into specific incidents, but the state has not got involved in the scandal centred on physical and sexual abuse.

"Those affected feel abandoned by the state. Most of them call for an investigation by the government that takes place independently of the Church," said Philipp Schwaerzler, a psychologist who is part of a newly-formed panel of victims and experts.

Arguing for a state commission, Schwaerzler said that it had been Austrian regional authorities who had placed children in the care of Church-run welfare institutions.

The new panel provides psychological and legal advice on possible damage claims. Its victim hotline has received some 260 calls in the past four weeks.

Over 560 callers had contacted hotlines operated by the Church by the end of March. Not all of the callers at such service lines are themselves victims.

As the abuse scandal has swept from Germany to Austria in the past months, an abbot has resigned after admitting to sexual abuse of a boy, while several priests were reportedly suspended or quit.

Bishop Elmar Fischer of the Feldkirch Church province is under investigation for allegedly injuring pupils by hitting them in the 1960s.