Austrian churchgoers quit in record numbers: report

VIENNA (Reuters) - A record 100,000 Austrians are expected to leave the Roman Catholic Church this year after abuse scandals which have badly damaged its image, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Some 57,000 quit the church in the first six months of the year, Austrian daily Der Standard reported, citing figures from local state authorities. This is already more than the full-year total for 2009 when 53,216 walked out.

A spokesman for Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who will release official figures in January 2011, was not available for comment.

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

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

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

Pope Benedict rebuked Cardinal Schoenborn in June after he publicly accused a peer of having covered up sexual abuse.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by David Stamp