Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eating His Hat

Hours before the Austrian bishops were to hold crisis talks amid controversy over his late January appointment, the cleric at the center of the storm -- Auxiliary Bishop-elect Gerhard Maria Wagner of Linz -- has requested that his appointment be "rescinded":
An Austrian pastor who suggested that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina because of the city's sins is giving up the auxiliary bishop post the pope promoted him to.

The national broadcaster ORF said Sunday the Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner made the decision because of the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's promotion of him in Linz, Austria's second largest city.

The promotion of the conservative pastor sparked an outcry among Catholics who warned it could prompt people to leave the church.

ORF quotes the 54-year-old Wagner as saying: "Regarding the fierce criticism, I am praying and after consulting the diocesan bishop I have decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome to take back my promotion as auxiliary bishop."
Dated Sunday evening, the above statement was posted on the website of the Linz diocese.

Released the same day as Pope Benedict's decree lifting the excommunication of the four Lefevbrist bishops, the storm over Wagner's elevation in the progressive diocese -- a move said to have neglected the findings of the local consultation process -- was compounded by furious public reaction over the SSPX decision.

A protege of Joseph Ratzinger and member of the pontiff's kitchen cabinet, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said before today's move that tomorrow's emergency meeting of the episcopate was necessary amid the "irritation" caused by the twin events, and that "the church needed 'damage control' for the sake of its future," according to wire reports.

Earlier last week, four-fifths of the 39 deans in the million-member Linz church issued a joint motion of protest over Wagner's appointment.