Anger as Pope names controversial bishop
By THE GUARDIAN
Added: Mon, 02 Feb 2009 00:00:00 UTC
â¢ Hurricane Katrina 'God's punishment', cleric said
â¢ Appointment follows row over Holocaust denier
Kate Connolly in Berlin
The Guardian, Monday 2 February 2009
Pope Benedict has promoted to bishop an ultra-conservative Austrian clergyman who called Hurricane Katrina "God's punishment" and condemned the Harry Potter books for "spreading satanism".
The appointment, which was confirmed by the Vatican at the weekend, comes days after the Pope was criticised for his rehabilitation of a bishop who denies the Holocaust.
Gerhard Maria Wagner, 54, is to become auxiliary bishop in the Austrian city of Linz, where he is viewed as a controversial figure by churchgoers and clergy alike. In 2005, he wrote in a parish newsletter that Hurricane Katrina was an act of "divine retribution" for the sins of a sexually permissive society.
He said it was worth considering whether environmental catastrophes should not be seen as a result of "spiritual environmental pollution" - a type of "divine retribution" for New Orleans' relaxed attitude towards sexual promiscuity and homosexuality.
"It is surely not an accident that all five of New Orleans' abortion clinics, as well as nightclubs were destroyed," he wrote, adding: "It's not just any old city that has gone under, but the people's dream city with the 'best brothels and the most beautiful whores'."
In 2001 he warned children against reading JK Rowling's novels about the boy wizard Harry Potter, describing them as spreading satanism.
In 2004 he said it was no coincidence that the Tsunami disaster had occurred at Christmas, inferring that it was punishment for "rich western tourists" who had "fled to poor Thailand".
Wagner has served as the parish priest of the Austrian town of Windischgarsten since 1988 and has a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome. In an interview with Austrian state television, ORF, he said: "I am someone who goes in search of confrontation".
News of his ordination on 22 March prompted a wave of criticism from clergy, not least because the decision was allegedly taken without consulting Austria's Catholic elite.
"I am devastated about this decision. It is astonishing that someone who holds an extreme view in so many questions can be called to such a position, which should bring people together," said Franz Wild, priest of the parish of Traun. "The way it has unfolded is really a catastrophe."
Walter Wimmer, of the Episcopal Consistorium, called it a "slap in the face for the Diocese of Linz".
The Pope is facing criticism for his recent decision to revoke the excommunication after two decades of four traditionalist bishops, members of the Society of Pius X, including British-born Richard Williamson, who is a Holocaust denier. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel broke off official ties with the Vatican last week in protest at the decision. On Saturday Israel's minister for religious affairs threatened to suspend relations.
Liberal Catholics have said they fear the Pope is steering the church in an ultra-conservative direction. In a commentary in the SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, the Swiss theologian and Catholic priest Hans KÃ¼ng, who has been at loggerheads with the Vatican for years, wrote: "The Pope risks losing the trust of millions of Catholics across the world."
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