Priest in major child sex abuse trial

A former Austrian priest and headmaster of a monastery boarding school went on trial Monday accused of sexually abusing 15 pupils and physically assaulting nine others.

Prosecutors accuse Alfons Mandorfer, 79, now defrocked, of committing "sexual acts of differing intensity" on the boys between 1973 and 1993 both at the Kremsmuenster school and on foreign trips.

His alleged victims were often vulnerable and had personal problems, prosecutors charge. He is also accused of whipping them, kicking them and threatening them with a pump-action shotgun.

Kremsmuenster Abbey, founded in 777 near Krems in central Austria, has already paid out more than 700,000 euros ($900,000) in compensation to victims of abuse at the school since the scandal erupted several years ago.

Several other members of staff were suspended in 2010.

The defendant's lawyer said he would "confess to a large extent and apologise to the victims." He added however that he believes the alleged abuse happened too long ago for a trial to be held.

Three years ago, 39 former pupils said they had been abused by Mandorfer -- some saying they have suffered lasting psychological effects -- but several claims were later dropped.

The white-haired former priest, who appeared in court in Steyr hunched, wearing a dark suit and walking with a stick, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. A verdict is expected on Thursday.

Like in other countries, the Austrian Catholic Church has been rocked by widespread accusations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in recent years. A commission has so far reviewed hundreds of cases.


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