Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pope rescinds Austrian bishop's appointment after embarassment

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.

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