Monday, February 16, 2009

Austrian Bishops Hold Emergency Meeting on Church Crisis; Bishop Nominee Withdraws

The week begins with media outlets reporting new developments in Austria in the aftermath of the recent crisis of authority in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI provoked a worldwide crisis by welcoming back a schismatic ultraconservative bishop who denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and the actuality of the Holocaust--and a crisis in Austria in particular by promoting as an auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria's third largest city and a major academic center, pastor Gerhard Maria Wagner, who has claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for New Orleans' sins, the Harry Potter books are satanic, and homosexuality could be cured.

Reuters reports that Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called all of the Austrian bishops to the one-day meeting today in an attempt to calm the uproar. A few paragraphs from the article:

The two appointments, both apparently without consultation with local churches, sparked doubt about Benedict's leadership and concern the Church was turning increasingly conservative.

Schoenborn said the uproar had caused "irritation and resignation" and the Church needed "damage control" for the sake of its future, according to the Catholic news agency Kathpress.

Four times as many Catholics have officially quit the Church in Linz so far this year as in early 2008, the Austrian Press Agency APA reported, and departures have also been running higher than usual in Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol and Lower Austria.

On Tuesday, 31 of the 39 deans (senior priests) of the Linz diocese passed a declaration of no confidence in Wagner, who has condemned the Harry Potter books as satanic, said homosexuality was curable and ruled out lay participation in Church affairs.

Schoenborn's spokesman Erich Leitenberger said the timing of Wagner's appointment fueled an uproar unleashed by the lifting of excommunications against Williamson and three other bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

"The proximity of those two events has for some people created the impression there was a masterplan, that the Church wanted to roll back the Second Vatican Council," he said, referring to major Church reforms from the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Google is carrying an Associated Press report from yesterday that the Bishop of Linz issued a statement that Wagner has asked Benedict to reverse his appointment as auxiliary. The bishop declined to comment on Wagner's request, but said that more information would result from today's meeting of the bishops.

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