Did the Vatican just cover-up for Austrian bishop implicated in financial and moral scandal?
AUSTRIA, December 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Monsignor Engelbert Guggenberger, the new administrator of the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, is in the process of setting straight the economic affairs of the diocese after the departure of Bishop Alois Schwarz who was transferred to the Diocese of St. Pölten, on 1 July 2018. Not only financial, but also moral problems had arisen under his leadership, and Monsignor Guggenberger had wished to publish the findings of a thorough financial audit. However, after Cardinal Schönborn's seeming intervention – he is said not to have wanted the publication of the findings – Rome itself intervened one day before the planned press conference and ordered that the findings be sent, instead, to the Vatican. Guggenberger showed himself to be “somewhat shocked” about this new turn of events.
Different news outlets have reported in the last days once more on the developments in the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, whose former bishop, Alois Schwarz, was moved to St. Pölten after constant and consistent rumors about his close collaborations with two female employees of his diocese, the divisive role of these two women in the diocese, and some doubtful financial decisions on the part of the bishop.
As a matter of fact, one of the close collaborators of Bishop Schwarz, Andrea E., went with him on trips to Vienna for visits to the opera, and she was largely considered to be much too close to the prelate. (As was the case earlier with another woman, his housekeeper, Eva H., who has now moved with him to his new diocese.) Catholics in Klagenfurt were embarrassed about their bishop who appeared many times in public together with this woman, even though he had been already earlier challenged concerning the propriety of this conduct by one of the most prominent Austrian newspapers, Der Standard. Additionally, Bishop Schwarz is also said to have administered his diocese in irregular ways, namely by disallowing a proper control of financial decisions.
As one Austrian report had it, Schwarz is even accused of covering up for two sexually abusive clergymen.
When Monsignor Guggenberger became the diocesan administrator in the summer of 2018 – after the removal of Bishop Schwarz – he immediately started to straighten out the diocese. One of his first steps was the cancellation of the contract of Andrea E., who had been given by Bishop Schwarz a new contract just before his departure. Another step was to re-set the administrative rules allowing for better control so that they were according to canon law, which had been violated, according to this diocesan administrator. Guggenberger's intention was “to restore lost confidence in the diocesan leadership.” He then also named a commission to investigate the financial situation of the diocese.
Then, on 11 December, Guggenberger had planned to publish the findings of the financial audit, also in order further to promote a transparency that had been lost. As News.at says, there had been many rumors swirling regarding “expensive investments, controversial contracts, and economic irregularities” in the diocese under Schwarz. As the magazine was able to find out, the findings of that audit are “explosive” and even said to be of “criminal relevance.”
As the Austrian magazine News.at reported on 9 December, there had been intense discussions going on within Church circles as to how to handle the findings of the financial audit. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn is said to have put pressure on Monsignor Guggenberger to keep the files secret: “According to accounts received, Cardinal Schönborn – who is also the President of the [Austrian] Bishops' Conference – and the Papal Nuncio, Zurbriggen, are said to have put enormous pressure on the diocesan administrator Guggenberger to deal with the matter inside the Church.” At a meeting with Guggenberger and Bishop Schwarz, Guggenberger is said “to have been unambiguously instructed about the hierarchical order.” “For example,” the magazine continues, he [Guggenberger] is said to have had to wait, together with the chauffeurs, outside of the conference room, while the other clergymen were together inside, conferring about the matter.”
Michael Prüller, Schönborn's press speaker, said that the diocese is free to handle the matter as it wishes and that Schönborn is not the head of the other bishops and thus wishes to be merely the moderator. However, he had asked that Bishop Schwarz be given the opportunity to respond to the findings of the audit. Bishop Schwarz himself has insisted upon his own willingness to cooperate and to enter into a personal dialogue.
As News.at explains, the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt in Carinthia is “by far the richest [diocese] in Austria,” with “several hundred million euro” and many properties and land. Bishop Schwarz was the only one to administer this wealth, and for the last four years, there did not take place a legally required financial audit. According to the magazine, the relevant files have been passed on to the attorney general to determine possible mishandling of funds.
Then on 10 December Monsignor Guggenberger was ordered by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome not to publish the findings of the financial audit and, instead, he was to send them to Rome – which is according to Canon Law, as the Austrian bishops' news website kathpress.at states. As Austrian media report, both the diocesan priests, as well as the faithful are indignant about this decision from Rome and consider it an obfuscation of “transparency.”
Says Guggenberger himself: “I am somewhat shocked about this procedure, this is of course not a shining hour of transparency.” He sees that the “trustworthiness of the Church in Carinthia has now been further damaged.” “I do my duty here and of course have to follow orders from above and take notice of them,” he added. But he made it clear that the attempt at clearing up this matter of the financial audit and its findings “is being now delayed, for now even stalled.”
Bishop Schwarz himself thanked the Congregation of Bishops – which is headed by Cardinal Marc Ouellet – that it “has made the decision to demand that the canonically correct path is being chosen.”
In the meantime, Monsignor Guggenberger has continued his path of healing and transparency by replacing the administrative and economical leadership in the diocese, as the Austrian news website Kath.net more fully reports.
Comments under a Kath.net report on this whole ongoing conflict in Klagenfurt go mainly into two directions. Some people are speculating that this conflict is about Guggenheimer's wishing to take “revenge” for past humiliations under Bishop Schwarz and that, in the course of this affair, canon law has been mainly overlooked. The Austrian commentators also point to the fact that he is “merely an administrator” and not himself a bishop. Others, however, see that “Bishop Schwarz perhaps is meant to replace Schönborn in Vienna” – that he is “Schönborn's protege” – and that for that purpose, his reputation has to be preserved. Here, some speak about “cover-up” coming from Rome, as well as from Vienna, and that Rome and Vienna had been informed about the grievous situation in Corinthia for years, without there being any corrective steps taken.
Finally, another commentator puts this current conflict and Rome's own intervention into the perspective of the current “paradigm shift” in the Church under Pope Francis: “Deja vu. There is a Zeitgeist-pleasing bishop threatened by the revelation of abusive conduct, and Rome immediately comes to his aid and forestalls the truth's coming to light. It does not matter whether it is about (mainly homo-) sexual abuse cases such as those committed by U.S. bishops, or (only?) about financial abuse such as in Austria – what really matters is that the accused persons are otherwise in line with the numerous Roman paradigm shifts and revolutions.”
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