LINZ, Austria – Bishop-designate Gerhard Wagner said he would ask Pope Benedict XVI to withdraw his nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz “given the fierce criticism” of his appointment.
The 54-year-old parish priest, who was named an auxiliary bishop Jan. 31, issued a statement Feb. 15 saying that after prayer and consultation with the diocesan bishop, “in the interest of and for the benefit of the diocese, I have decided to ask the Holy Father to withdraw my nomination.”
The statement was published Feb. 15 on the Web site of the Diocese of Linz.
The uproar over his appointment stemmed mainly from comments he made implying that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a punishment from God for sins committed in New Orleans.
As of Feb. 16, the Vatican had not announced any change in Bishop-designate Wagner’s appointment.
After a meeting Feb. 16 in Vienna, the diocesan bishops of Austria issued a statement saying they supported Bishop-designate Wagner’s request to withdraw, although they also reaffirmed their belief that it is best for the church that the pope appoint bishops.
If a bishop were to be elected by the faithful at large, they said, “conflicts would be inevitable.”
However, the bishops’ statement also said that the canon law procedure for choosing a bishop, which calls for consultation with other bishops, priests of the diocese and lay leaders, is important for ensuring support and an appropriate welcome for new bishops.
“The procedure provided for in canon law for the selection and the examination of candidates (for the office of bishop) has proved its worth, if this procedure really is followed,” they said.
The Austrian bishops did not refer directly to the fact that Bishop-designate Wagner once linked the 2005 Katrina disaster to what he called “the spiritual pollution” plaguing New Orleans.
“The amoral conditions in this town are indescribable,” he said in a parish newsletter in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans.
“This is not just any city which has been drowned, but the people’s dream town with the ‘best brothels and the most beautiful whores,’ ” he said, according to excerpts from the newsletter which appeared on the Austrian Catholic Web site Kath.net.
The Austrian newspaper Osterrich reported Feb. 2 that the bishop-designate denied describing Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Asian tsunami as a punishment from God.
But the newspaper quoted him as saying it was probably not a coincidence the tsunami took place at Christmastime, “when people from the rich world go to poor Thailand to enjoy the world.”
The bishop-designate, who received a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, also told the newspaper he believes the Harry Potter book series is “satanic.”