Austria bishops urge better Vatican communication

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s diocesan bishops on Monday urged the Vatican to improve its inadequate communication skills, after holding an emergency meeting to discuss a crisis of confidence in the Catholic church.

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

“We hope inadequate channels of communication in the Vatican can be improved so the Pope’s service to humanity is not impaired,” Austria’s bishops said in a statement after their day-long meeting.

The Williamson case and the appointment of Gerhard Maria Wagner in Linz sparked doubts about the Pope’s leadership and concern the church was taking an increasingly conservative turn.

Both decisions were apparently taken without consultation with local churches.

Last week, 31 of the 39 deans (senior priests) in the Linz diocese passed a declaration of no confidence in Wagner, a rare event in the tightly governed Catholic Church. Wagner withdrew on Sunday, and the Vatican accepted his decision, the Catholic news agency Kathpress reported.

Austria’s bishops said it was essential for the Pope to have reliable and thorough briefings before appointing bishops.

Faced with rising numbers of Catholics quitting the church and protests from clergy, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called all diocesan bishops to Monday’s meeting to “give our best to overcome the crisis.”

The bishops expressed solidarity with the Pope but linked the communication problems and lack of adherence to official nomination procedures to the disputed promotion of Wagner.

“We bishops will do everything within our power to insure the upcoming bishop nominations are conducted according with the official procedure, in close cooperation with the relevant Vatican officials,” they said.

Paul Zulehner, a theologian at the University of Vienna, called the Wagner nomination a putsch by church conservatives in Austria and an attempt to sideline the official church leaders.

“The seizure of power by the right-wingers has now failed, apparently through the clear intervention of several Austrian bishops,” he said.

“I think people will now say: ‘it is really good that Cardinal Schoenborn has taken over the leadership of the Church again’,” Zulehner added. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Jon Boyle)