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Pope Asks Bishops of Scandal-Riven Austrian Church for Fidelity to the Faith

LifeSiteNews.com

By Hilary White

ROME, June 18, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pope Benedict XVI has flatly asked the Catholic bishops of Austria for fidelity to the Catholic faith in a message issued at the conclusion of a series of “crisis” meetings at the Vatican. The pope asked the bishops to “attempt renewal” in the scandal-riven Austrian Church by catechesis based on the approved Catechism of the Catholic Church and to maintain “full fidelity to Vatican II and the Magisterium of the post-conciliar Church.”

The meetings on Monday and Tuesday were held in the wake of an open revolt in January this year by some priests of the Austrian diocese of Linz who had refused to accept the pope’s appointment of so-called “ultraconservative” Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop. The Austrian bishops later issued an open letter complaining that there were “problems of communication” and that the appointment had been made without sufficient consultation with “the local church.”

In episcopal appointments, the letter said, “final decisions should be carefully undertaken and with pastoral sensitivity … This can ensure that bishops are appointed who are not 'against' but 'for' a local church.”

At the same time, the Austrian bishops joined the liberal mainstream press in its criticism of the lifting of the excommunications of the bishops of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X. In doing so the bishops’ criticized what they perceived as “the inadequate communication processes in the Vatican,” saying they hope they will “be successfully improved so that the worldwide service of the Pope does not suffer damage.”

Ultimately, the uproar caused Bishop Wagner, in what has been described as a “not entirely voluntarily” fashion, to ask the Pope to withdraw his appointment to the position. 

During this week’s meetings, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone warned the Austrian bishops against losing the Catholic faith they were charged with safeguarding. “The faith is able to be lost in every age and condition of life,” said Cardinal Bertone. “The truth of the faith itself can be lost, adulterating it, polluting it, confusing it.”

Bishop Wagner had been chosen to attempt the beginnings of reform in the diocese. While the Linz diocese is notorious especially for its bizarre liturgical practices, it is representative of the Church in Austria in general where most Catholics polled say they disagree with “the Vatican position” on abortion, homosexuality and priestly celibacy. Austrian clergy are widely known commonly to live in unmarried relationships with a woman “companion.”

In the 2004, Austrian Catholics were shocked at the discovery, in an Austrian seminary, of a huge cache of child pornography and lurid photographs of young seminarians fondling each other and their older religious instructors. The affair resulted in the closure of the seminary, and the resignations of the seminary rector and vice-rector.

The meetings at the Vatican were joined by the heads of five different dicasteries of the Roman Curia, including the Congregations for Clergy, Bishops and Doctrine of the Faith.

The Austrian delegation was led by Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who told media that the bishops did not feel they were being chastised, but merely called to “discuss” problems. Indeed, so sanguine was Schonborn at the bishops’ treatment by Vatican officials, that he presented Pope Benedict with a petition, a so-called “initiative of the lay faithful,” that demanded the abolition of compulsory celibacy for priests, the return to ministry of priests who have already left to be married, the opening of the diaconate to women, and the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

Schonborn told Vatican Radio, “Despite the fact that I do not agree with some of the initiative's conclusions, frankly I believe that it is important that people in Rome know what some of our laypeople are thinking.”

Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Catholic Crisis as Austrian Hierarchy Rebels over Pope's Selection of Conservative Priest as New Bishop

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