Austrian Catholic Church holds meeting amid bishops uproar

Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:43am EST
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By Boris Groendahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's Catholic Church will hold a crisis session on Monday to discuss an uproar over a new provincial bishop and the Vatican's readmission of a banned bishop who denies the Holocaust, officials said on Friday.

Faced with rising numbers of Catholics quitting the Church and protests from clergy, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called all diocesan bishops to the one-day meeting to "give our best to overcome the crisis."

Austrian Catholicism is in turmoil because Pope Benedict, one week after readmitting arch-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, named an auxiliary bishop in Linz who said Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was God punishing New Orleans for its sins.

The two appointments, both apparently without consultation with local churches, sparked doubt about Benedict's leadership and concern the Church was turning increasingly conservative.

Schoenborn said the uproar had caused "irritation and resignation" and the Church needed "damage control" for the sake of its future, according to the Catholic news agency Kathpress.

Four times as many Catholics have officially quit the Church in Linz so far this year as in early 2008, the Austrian Press Agency APA reported, and departures have also been running higher than usual in Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol and Lower Austria.

On Tuesday, 31 of the 39 deans (senior priests) of the Linz diocese passed a declaration of no confidence in Wagner, who has condemned the Harry Potter books as satanic, said homosexuality was curable and ruled out lay participation in Church affairs.

TIMING Fueled UPROAR   Continued...