An Austrian cardinal has deplored the prevalence of clerical sex abuse in the conservative Catholic “new communities”.

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“It is shocking that so many of the new spiritual movements have founders who have proven to be abusers over time”, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn lamented at a lecture on the sex abuse crisis November 11 at the University of Vienna.

The Archbishop of Vienna later highlighted his observation in a tweet from his personal account.

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As proof of his claim, Schönborn cited the case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, who for his abuse of women and young boys and men was ordered in 2006 by the Vatican to retire from the active ministry to a life of “prayer and penitence”.

The cardinal also referred to the case of French Dominican Marie-Dominique Philippe, the founder of the French Community of Saint John, who has also been accused of the abuse of nuns.

Other examples cited by Schönborn included Gérard Croissant – the founder of the French Community of the Beatitudes, who committed abuses against sisters in the order and at least one underage girl – and Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, who gathered a conservative community around him in the ‘El Bosque’ parish in Santiago.

All are examples of dangerous “guru behaviour”, Schönborn denounced, in which founders who considered themselves near faultless encouraged an exclusive, excessive and unhealthy attachment on the part of their followers.

The founders manipulated their followers with the threat of the “withdrawal of love”, the cardinal explained, which led to blind spots and cover-ups and the formation of insider-outsider groups in the communities.

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Schönborn also referred in his lecture to the prevalence of sex abuse in the Church before and after the great modernising Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

He said that despite what some have claimed – including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – neither the Council nor the May ’68 movement led to an increase in pedophilia.

“The figures from Austria speak a different language”, Schönborn affirmed.

To back his claim, he cited statistics from the Austrian Church’s Klasnic Commission on sex abuse in the Church, which has provided compensation to the value of about 28 million euros in just over 2,000 abuse cases.

Of those 2,000 cases of Church pedophilia, 52% took place in the years prior to the 1970s.

In fact, said Schönborn, the “closed system” prevalent in the Church before Vatican II could actually have favoured sex abuse.

“In closed systems, abuse is much more common than in open [ones]”, the cardinal recalled.

More than that, though, Schönborn said that in the years before Vatican II the priest’s authority was “inflated” in a way that was “unhealthy”.

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