By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A crisis in the Austrian Catholic Church prompted a special meeting in Rome on June 15 between Pope Benedict XVI and Austrian bishops. The Church in Austria has been troubled for years by dwindling numbers and widespread dissent.
According to various news reports, the delegation, led by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, met with the Pope to discuss a variety of problems assailing the Church in Austria, especially the open rebellion of clergy in the Diocese of Linz that took place earlier this year after the Vatican appointed a traditional Catholic as auxiliary bishop .
The problems in Linz began in early 2009 when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of the controversial Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a man who caused an international uproar when he denied the Holocaust in a television appearance.
A week later, the Pope named Msgr. Gerhard Wagner as an auxiliary bishop of Linz, which caused a second uproar due to the priest’s traditional views which include believing Harry Potter books are satanic, that homosexuality is curable, and that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment from God for the sins of New Orleans.
News of Wagner’s appointment caused 31 of 39 senior priests in the Diocese of Linz to pass a declaration of no confidence in the selection and sparked doubts about the Pope’s leadership while raising concerns that the Church was becoming too “conservative.”
At the time, Cardinal Schonborn’s spokesman Erich Leitenberger said the timing of Msgr. Wagner’s appointment added fuel to the fire started 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.
“This is of course nonsense,” he told Reuters.
So far this year, four times as many Catholics have officially quit the Church in the Diocese of Linz in 2009 compared with last year, with departures running higher than usual in Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol and Lower Austria.
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