Katrina row priest asks Pope not to promote him to bishop

An Austrian priest who created a controversy by suggesting that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina because of the city’s sins said he will ask the Pope to rescind his promotion.

An Austrian priest who created a controversy by suggesting that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina because of the city’s sins said he will ask the Pope to rescind his promotion.

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent appointment of the conservative Father Gerhard Maria Wagner, 54, to auxiliary bishop in Linz, Austria’s third largest city, sparked an outcry among Roman Catholics who warned it could prompt people to leave the church.

Fr Wagner, among other things, also had characterised Harry Potter novels as “Satanism”.

“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,” Fr Wagner said in a statement released by Linz Diocesan Bishop Ludwig Schwarz yesterday.

The Bishop declined to comment about Fr Wagner’s decision, but said more information would result from an extraordinary meeting of Austria’s bishops in Vienna today.

The meeting was announced on Friday to discuss widespread objections to the Vatican’s appointment of Fr Wagner.

Fr 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”.

Fr Wagner’s promotion was one of two recent controversial decisions by the Vatican.

In an interview with Swedish state TV broadcast January 21, Bishop Richard Williamson said only about 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust, none of them gassed.

The Vatican said Benedict did not know about the Bishop’s views when he agreed a short time later to lift his excommunication.

Bishop Williamson and other bishops had been consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent.

The Holy See said that removing the excommunication did not mean the Vatican shared the Bishop’s views.

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