Monday, February 16, 2009

Continuing Crisis in Austrian Church: Wagner Resigns

Also in the news today, Gerhard Maria Wagner, the right-leaning auxiliary bishop-to-be in Linz, Austria, about which I’ve blogged a number of times (here), has declined Benedict XVI’s appointment of him to the episcopacy (here). And the media are reporting that Benedict has accepted Wagner’s response to the promotion. Apparently the deciding factor was the vote of no-confidence by 31 of 39 deans of the Linz diocese, about which I blogged several days ago (here).

As the posting to which I just linked also notes, the Viennese Cardinal Christoph Schönborn convened a meeting of the bishops of Austria today to deal with the crisis in the Austrian church precipitated by the appointment of Wagner and Benedict’s rehabilitation of the Society of St. Pius X. Cardinal Schönborn has stated that the meeting is necessary to do “damage control” in the Austrian church, in which there has been an unprecedented number of resignations following these two papal actions.

I suspect it’s going to take far more than damage control to retrieve the shattered confidence of many Catholics. Nothing less than the future of the church is at stake here—just as nothing less than the retrieval of Vatican II following years of “restorationist” attack on that council is at stake if the church’s future is to be safeguarded. The no-confidence vote of those 31 peers of Wagner is a good sign. It’s an assertion of the right of the local church to make its voice heard as episcopal appointments are made.

Unfortunately, there is no official mechanism at all in the Catholic church for such expressions of the sensus fidelium. And in the American church, where bishops have for generations been notoriously slavish about bowing to papal dictates, there’s not likely to be such a mechanism anytime soon.