April 13, 2011 / 3:33 PM / 9 years ago

More than 800 approach Austrian church abuse commission

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian commission investigating sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church said Wednesday over 800 people had come forward to register as victims in the past year.

Over a third of the cases have been settled, the head of the commission, Waltraud Klasnic, told a news conference.

She said the number of complaints showed that the church must screen priests more carefully and look into their mental state before allowing them to qualify.

Klasnic said the commission, which was set up a year ago, was also looking into the structures that allowed such abuse and violence to occur, according to remarks carried by the Austria Press Agency (APA).

Around three-quarters of the 837 complaints involved male victims. The commission does not pass legal judgement but hands over plausible cases to the authorities and most have the cases processed so far have involved compensation.

Abuse scandals in Austrian Catholic institutions have badly damaged the religion’s image with a record 87,000 people quitting the church in 2010.

Hundreds of reports of child sexual abuse in Austrian Catholic institutions were triggered by the resignation of an arch-abbot in Salzburg last April after he admitted to sexually abusing a boy 40 years ago.

The abuse crisis has also hit the United States and several other European countries, including the pope’s native Germany.

The church plays an important role in Austria, a socially conservative Alpine country of 8 million, where around two-thirds of people described themselves as Catholic in 2008.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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