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Bishops to address crisis in church

The Austrian Bishops Conference will address the Church crisis at its annual late winter conference from 9 to 12 March in Innsbruck.

The bishops, auxiliary bishops and the abbot of territorial abbey Wettingen-Mehrerau will reportedly discuss the fall-out from the case of Gerhard Maria Wagner, the controversial priest who recently asked Pope Benedict XVI to withdraw his nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz after a public storm of protest. The Pope formally accept Wagner’s request yesterday (Mon).

The conference will also address the problem of the increasing exodus of Catholics from the Church, "the current situation in the Church and society" and the government’s planned tax-reform, according to Kathpress. The government has reportedly agreed to increase the amount of mandatory Church contributions that can be deducted from Austrians’ taxes.

Participants will also discuss their June meeting with the Slovene Bishops Conference in Mariazell, Styria. The Austrian Bishops Conference has been intensifying relations with bishops in neighbouring countries since "Middle European Catholic Day" in 2004.

Vienna Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, who chairs the conference, will report on its results at a 13 March press conference in Vienna.

The bishops at least won’t have to deal with a possible Vatican investigation of the situation in the Linz diocese.

The Vatican announced yesterday (Mon) that it would not be sending an apostolic delegation to Linz to investigate the controversy surrounding former auxiliary bishop-designate Wagner.

Linz Bishop Ludwig Schwarz’s surprise visit to the Vatican last Friday had prompted speculation he had been summoned as part of preparations for an apostolic visitation or formal Vatican investigation of the situation in the diocese.

But diocese communications office head Ferdinand Kaineder denied Schwarz had been summoned to Rome, saying such reports had been "pure speculation." Rather, Kaineder said, Schwarz had gone to the Vatican to discuss ways of calming things down in the diocese with Church officials.

The situation in the Linz diocese heated up after the Pope nominated Windischgarsten pastor Wagner as auxiliary bishop of the diocese.

Wagner’s controversial public comments led to an exodus of Catholics from the Church in the diocese after the Pope’s nomination.

The ultra-conservative priest had hit the headlines with statements labelling the Harry Potter book series "a work of Satanism," homosexuality as "curable" and natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami in Southeastern Asia and 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as God’s punishment of human sin.

But Wagner is also infamous for hitting out on many other subjects, as Austrian magazine "profil" recently revealed.

Speaking about Baptism and the decrease of the Catholic Church’s influence in Austria, Wagner told believers at the Catholic church in Windischgarsten: "If the Church isn’t that important anymore, why is a child brought into the Church to be baptised? Why don’t people take their children somewhere else?"

In another sermon, Wagner warned: "I would like to make you aware today that many more people than you might think have made a pact with the devil, with Satan."

Speaking about the increasing number of people leaving the Church, Wagner said: "I ask myself: What’s the matter with those who talk badly about the Church, those who have left it? Those who moan when speaking about Catholic Austria?

"They make use of Catholic holidays, and that’s something I am protesting against. If someone doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Church, he should go to work on such holidays."

Private Upper Austrian radio station "Life Radio" recently reported the Windischgarsten council would formally make Wagner an honorary citizen of the town.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Mayor Norbert Vögerl has confirmed the report, saying he approves of the initiative.

A few weeks ago, Wagner asked the Pope to withdraw his nomination of him as auxiliary bishop after coming under heavy pressure because of his controversial statements.

The Vatican also announced yesterday it would accept Wagner's request to the Pope to withdraw his nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz.

Austrian Times


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