Austrian conservative priest withdraws candidacy

16th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

A priest who recently said homosexuality is a disease that could be cured has withdrawn his nomination as auxiliary bishop after facing much criticism in Austria and the Catholic church.

VIENNA – An ultra-conservative Austrian priest whose recent appointment as auxiliary bishop by Pope Benedict XVI sparked controversy has withdrawn his candidacy, the Catholic news agency Kathpress said Sunday.

"In light of the hefty criticism, I have decided, after prayer and consultation with the bishop, to ask the Holy Father to withdraw my nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz," Gerhard Maria Wagner said in a statement released to Kathpress.

The Vatican had accepted the request, Kathpress added.

Wagner's nomination two weeks ago as auxiliary bishop in the northern town of Linz - although his name was not even on the list submitted to the pope - sparked outrage in Austria, including within the Catholic Church.

No stranger to controversy, he had in the past described the Harry Potter novels as "satanism" and implied that natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - in which five abortion clinics were destroyed - were divine punishment.

In a recent interview, he added that homosexuality was a disease that could be cured.

Wagner's stepping down was "in the interest of the Linz diocese," Bishop Ludwig Schwarz told Kathpress Sunday.

A majority of Church leaders in Upper Austria, of which Linz is the capital, opposed Wagner's nomination, even threatening a kind of referendum to prevent him taking up the post.

Meanwhile, churches reported that a growing number of Catholics began asking to be dropped from the lists of the faithful.

Wagner's nomination came as the Vatican was already under fire for lifting the excommunication of British bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier who claims no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.

In the wake of these controversies, Vienna's archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, called a meeting for Monday to discuss the deep crisis in the Austrian church and provide some "damage limitation".

[AFP / Expatica]

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