Allegations of sexual misconduct are plunging Austria's Roman Catholic church into crisis. As the church's head steps down in the face of molestation charges—and his replacement is accused of having "homosexual tendencies"—thousands are leaving the church.

Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, 75, stepped down in September after nine years as the head of Austria's Roman Catholic Church amid charges that he sexually abused a boy 20 years ago.

"There is salvation in the cross, there is love in the cross, and there is hope in the cross," Groer said without further comment after announcing his resignation.

Josef Hartman, 37, said he had been abused by Groer when he was 17 years old and a student at a Catholic boarding school for boys. Hartman said he made his story public because Groer recently said those who abused young boys would never enter the kingdom of God. Four other former pupils, who remained anonymous, also have accused Groer of molesting them.

Groer's silence in the matter sparked widespread calls for his resignation. Nearly half a million people signed a petition in July asking the church to adopt reforms, including allowing priests to marry, and thousands have left the church to protest its handling of the crisis. Close to 90 percent of the country's 8 million people are Roman Catholic.

Meanwhile, Groer's successor, Bishop Christoph Schoenborn, is enmeshed in his own controversy. In August, a homosexual-rights pressure group, Homosexual Initiative, alleged that Schoenborn and three other Austrian bishops have "homosexual tendencies." The bishops have rejected the charges and vow legal action against the group's leader, Kurt Krickler.


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