Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Pope's choice for bishop declines

Gerhard Maria Wagner (2 February 2009)
Father Wagner said Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution for New Orleans

A Roman Catholic priest has asked Pope Benedict to revoke his appointment as a bishop in Austria, after his promotion led to protests within the Church.

Gerhard Maria Wagner said the "fierce criticism" had persuaded him to ask not to be named auxiliary bishop of Linz.

Father Wagner has described Hurricane Katrina as God's punishment for the sins of New Orleans, and the Harry Potter novels as satanic.

The Catholic news agency Kathpress says the Pope has agreed to the request.

Pope Benedict's promotion of Father Wagner came a week after another PR storm, which erupted after the Pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

In a television interview last November, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson disputed that six million Jews had died at the hands of the Nazis, and claimed that none had died in gas chambers.

After coming under pressure from the Vatican, the bishop apologised for shaming the Church, but did not recant his views.

No-confidence vote

The resignation of Father Wagner came on the eve of an emergency meeting of all diocesan bishops in Austria, at which they had pledged to "give our best to overcome the crisis" according to Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

The meeting had been called after Austrian Catholics expressed unease over Fr Wagner's promotion.

Correspondents say the priest is notorious for his hard-line views.

Pope Benedict
The pope has come under fire for a series of controversial decisions

He wrote in a parish newsletter that the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was divine retribution for the city's tolerance of homosexuals and permissive sexual attitudes.

The priest said he was glad that Katrina destroyed not only nightclubs and brothels in New Orleans, but also five of the city's abortion clinics.

Last week, 31 of the 39 deans of the Linz diocese backed a declaration of no confidence in Father Wagner.

"Regarding the fierce criticism, I am in prayer and, after consulting the diocesan bishop, I have decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome to take back my promotion as auxiliary bishop," Father Wagner said in a statement on Sunday.

Linz Bishop Ludwig Schwarz told Austrian ORF television on Sunday evening that he was relieved by Fr Wagner's request, adding that it had been "in the interest and for the good of the diocese".

Correspondents say the Catholic Church in Austria has been losing support in recent years after its former head was sacked as a result of a scandal involving gay priests in a teaching college.

Austrian Catholics gave only a lukewarm welcome to the Pope when he visited Vienna in 2007.

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