By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman and John-Henry Westen

BELGIUM, February 25, 2009 ( – Pope Benedict’s selection of an orthodox Austrian priest as auxiliary bishop in the ultraliberal diocese of Linz has generated a firestorm of protest from liberal Catholics in the laity, among priests and even the bishops of Austria.  The furor was venomous in the media, priests voted to reject the nomination, and last week the priest himself – “not entirely voluntarily” – signed a letter asking the Pope to withdraw his appointment to the bishopric.  The Vatican has not, however, accepted the resignation.

The priest’s request to withdraw his nomination may be rejected by Rome according to a prominent German-speaking blogger, who is the main source of the developments to the English-speaking world.

In a recent interview with the Austrian newspaper Tagespost, Fr. Gerhard Wagner stated that his resignation was “not totally voluntary,” according to Chris Gillibrand, who covers the Linz diocese on his blog “Catholic Church Conservation.”

Fear of ongoing opposition, which had been fierce in the days following his nomination by the pope, was the basis of his decision, Wagner told Tagespost.  He was reportedly concerned that parishes might turn him away when he came for confirmations or parish visits.

He also stated that the diocesan bishop, Ludwig Schwarz, was himself experiencing “anxiety and distress” at the thought of his ordination and its likely consequences. “The deaneries perhaps I could convince, but what happens when the bishop gets scared?”  he said.

Gillibrand calls the statement by Wagner an “ecclesiastical bomb,” because resignation from an office due to “grave fear” unjustly or maliciously inflicted is invalid, according to ecclesiastical law.

Gillibrand says that the diocese of Linz is overrun with dissent and heresy against the Church.  “The diocese is no longer ruled by the bishop but by a libero-clerical elite which is itself dominated by a pseudo-clerical lay elite,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Wagner has in the past provoked the ire of the diocese’s liberal establishment by speculating that Hurricane Katrina might be retribution for sin, and speaking of the idea of curing people of homosexuality.  He has also denounced the Harry Potter books, echoing the sentiments of Pope Benedict XVI, expressed while he was still a cardinal.

Many of the ultraliberal Austrian bishops, including Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, have joined in the assault on Wagner, indirectly scolding Benedict for his decision to appoint him.

“The faithful are legitimately concerned that the process of candidate search, examination of the proposals and the final decisions should be carefully undertaken and with pastoral sensitivity are possible,” they wrote in a recent statement. “This can ensure that bishops are appointed who are not ‘against’ but ‘for’ a local church. We bishops will make every possible effort to support the forthcoming episcopal appointments in the sense of monitoring these procedures in close cooperation with the relevant Vatican offices.”

However, bishop Andreas Laun, auxiliary of Salzburg, has openly defended Wagner, comparing his treatment to a crucifixion.  “With the indictment, the verdict is known: ‘Away with him!’” wrote Laun recently for the German website

Contact Information:

Pope Benedict XVI
[email protected]

Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn
Archdiocese of Vienna
Wollzeile 2, A-1010 Wien, Oesterreich
Telephone: (01)515.52.3229
Fax: 515.52.3760

Related Links:

Catholic Church Conservation

Previous LifeSiteNews coverage:

Pope Benedict XVI Appoints New Bishop, Known for Doctrinal Orthodoxy, for Linz, Austria

Vienna Catholic Cathedral Blessing for Homosexual Couples

Vienna Cardinal Awards Papal Knighthood to Notorious Pro-Abortion Austrian Politician

Blasphemous Art Works Remain at Vienna Cathedral Gallery

Vienna Archbishop Cardinal presides over grotesque Mass in Vienna


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