Controversial priest declines promotion
An Austrian Roman Catholic priest who suggested that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina because of the city's sins, and accused the Harry Potter books of "spreading satanism" is giving up the auxiliary bishop post to which the Pope intended to promote him.
Hours before the Austrian bishops were to hold crisis talks amid controversy over his late January appointment, the cleric at the center of the storm -- Auxiliary Bishop-elect Gerhard Maria Wagner of Linz -- has requested that his appointment be "rescinded".
Wagner, 54, was due 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.
With suggestions circulating that the Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner was "bullied into" withdrawing from the proposed elevation, he made the decision because of the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's intention of promoting him in Austria's second largest city.
The Catholic journalist Hubert Feichtlbauer doubts that Wagner made the move voluntarily. "Wagner is not the guy who gives up. "The pressure on Wagner was too immense, so I believe that the Pope asked him to withdraw. "
The promotion of the conservative pastor sparked an outcry among Catholics who warned it could prompt people to leave the church.
Wagner has questioned whether the "noticeable" increase of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina - which devastated New Orleans in 2005 - was a result of pollution caused by humans or the result of "spiritual pollution."
The 54-year-old Wagner has said in a statement released by Linz Diocesan Bishop Ludwig Schwarz: "Regarding the fierce criticism, I am praying and after consulting the diocesan bishop I have decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome to take back my promotion as auxiliary bishop."
This fresh controversy comes on top of the angry responses to the Pope's reinstatement of Holocaust-denier Bishop Richard Williamson who has since apologised for causing distress to the Pope, but has not so far recanted regarding his views that "only about 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust".
The Pope who has since sacked Williamson, has told Jewish leaders visiting the Vatican that it was unacceptable for anyone, but especially a priest, to deny the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War.