March 17, 2009

Pope rescinds bishops appointment

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Irish Times March 3, 2009

Pope rescinds bishop's appointment


IN WHAT looks like a further embarrassing setback for Pope Benedict, the Vatican yesterday confirmed that the pope has cancelled the appointment of Austrian Fr Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary Bishop of Linz. In a most unusual step, the pope has effectively backtracked on an appointment, made two months ago, which prompted anger and dismay amongst Austrian Catholics.

Last month, faced with what he called “fierce criticism”, Fr Wagner had asked the pope to withdraw his nomination. In a one-line statement yesterday, the Vatican press office confirmed that the pope had granted Fr Wagner’s request, dispensing him from accepting the office in Linz.

Critics, in Austria and beyond, had complained about various statements made by Fr Wagner, in particular with regard to the Hurricane Katrina disaster which struck New Orleans in 2005. Writing in a parish newsletter, Fr Wagner had said: “The amoral conditions in this town are indescribable. This is not just any city which has been drowned but the people’s dream town with the ‘best brothels and the most beautiful whores’”, wrote Fr Wagner, suggesting that the hurricane had been a punishment from God for the “spiritual pollution” of New Orleans.

Furthermore, Fr Wagner is on record as having labelled the Harry Potter book series as “satanic” and having declared homosexuality to be a curable condition. In his parish in Windischgarsten, he prompted resentment by refusing to allow lay participation in church affairs.

Within days of his January appointment, 31 senior priests in the Linz diocese passed a highly unusual vote of no confidence in Fr Wagner, effectively openly contesting Pope Benedict’s choice. As far as the Holy See is concerned, however, perhaps the most worrying criticism has come from the Cardinal of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn, who recently called an emergency meeting of Austrian bishops to discuss the crisis in relations between the Austrian church and the Holy See.

According to Vatican insiders, Cardinal Schoenborn, who in the 2005 conclave played an important role in persuading fellow cardinals to elect Benedict, has now privately expressed his concern at the manner in which the church is being governed. In particular, he and others are concerned that the pope is acting ever more in isolation, with appointments being made without either sufficient consultation or proper vetting.

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