Austria: Bishop No Sooner Nominated than Handing in Resignation

Source: FSSPX News


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On February 15, Bishop Gerhard Maria Wagner, aged 54, recently appointed by Benedict XVI as auxiliary bishop of Linz in the Upper Austria province, asked the Vatican to annul his appointment, according to the agency Kathpress. “In the light of heavy criticism, I have decided (…) after consulting with the bishop, to ask the Holy Father to revoke my nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz,” he stated in a press release quoted by the agency, which added that the Vatican had accepted this request. On February 16, the Press Office of the Holy See insisted that this resignation had not yet received an official response from Rome.

The appointment of Bishop Wagner two weeks ago, even though his name did not figure in the list of candidates submitted to Benedict XVI by the bishop of Linz, Bishop Ludwig Schwarz, provoked vehement protests. The prelate had said in the past that homosexuality was an illness which should be cured, that the Harry Potter novels were about “Satanism” and that the natural disasters such as the tsunami of 2004 in Asia and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the United States – where five abortion clinics were destroyed – was divine retribution. Presented by the press as an “ultra-conservative” bishop, Bishop Wagner is not, however, attached to the Traditional liturgy.

During a deanery conference of the diocese of Linz, 31 of the 35 churchmen present rejected the nomination of Bishop Wagner, reported the daily Kurier of February 10. “For the sake of the credibility of the Church and the unity of the diocese, this nomination can not be approved,” they declared. There were even plans to organize a referendum in order to prevent Bishop Wagner from taking up his post as auxiliary bishop. In view of this situation, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna called an extraordinary meeting of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, on February 16. Not only the former newly named auxiliary bishop of Linz, but also the auxiliary bishop of Bregenz, in the west of Austria, Bishop Elmar Fischer, are currently the target of an extremely virulent campaign of public opinion.

In a pastoral letter issued following this meeting, the Austrian Bishops stated that “the pope undoubtedly had the freedom to appoint bishops,” but they point out that “the canon law procedures for the selection and examination of candidates are valid only if they are truly respected.” “We have the right to expect that the research process for the candidates, the examination of the recommendations and the final decision, be carried out with great care,” they emphasized. The archbishop of Vienna also criticized the “shortcuts” taken by the Vatican in order to nominate Bishop Wagner.

For his part, the archbishop of Salzbourg, Bishop Alois Kothgasser, asked: “must the Catholic Church be ‘purified’ down to the status of a sect where no more than a handful of members faithful to the official line, would remain?” in a public statement issued on February 11 by several Austrian papers. The archbishop alluded to the “hemorrhage” of the faithful who have asked to be removed from the register for Church taxes in force in Austria, and whose numbers have tripled in the last few days following this nomination and the lifting of the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. According to the agency Apic, the Catholic Church in Austria has lost more than 370,000 members in fifteen years, of whom more than 40,500 in 2008. The Church now only represents 66% of the population with 5.58 million faithful.

In October 2004, AFP revealed that the Church had lost more than 210,000 members in ten years, and that the phenomenon had accelerated in the wake of a scandal which broke out during 2004 at the seminary of Sankt-Pölten, in which the rector and vice-rector as well as several seminarians were implicated: pornographic photographs were found on some computers. Bishop Klaus Küng, of Opus Dei was at that time appointed bishop of Sankt-Pölten, replacing Bishop Kurt Krenn. – see DICI no 102 of 14.10.04 and no 103 of 30.10.04. (Sources: Kathpress / AFP / Kurier / Apic )