Austrian newspaper Oberösterreichischen Nachrichten ran an article last week, in which it reported a marked increase in people leaving the Church in the state of Oberösterreich. The paper speculated that the reason may be found in the Wagner affair (Father Gerhard Wagner was appointed as auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Linz, causing havoc within the heavily polarised Church there. Fr. Wagner asked the pope to rescind his appointment). The SSPX/Bishop Williamson affair would be an important secondary reason, the paper suggests.
All in all, the number of people leaving has increased with 43 percent, and although that is no more than some 1,000 people in total, the relative increase is enormous, and mirrored to a lesser degree in the rest of Austria (and the rest of Europe, I would say).
The newspaper interviewed Fr. Wagner for his opinion about it all. The translation from the original German is my own, although I relied somewhat on Anna Arco’s blog post.
OÖN: Father, what is the reason that the hhighest number of people in decades left the Church in the diocese of Linz last year?
Wagner: It is tendency that we can see in all of Austria: In the first place the people for whom the connection to the Church is already very thin, leave.
OÖN: But there were multiple affairs in the Catholic Church that angered the faithful…
Wagner: We must see it in a larger context: there was the affair of the Pius X society which some people did not like. But we must also not ignore conflicts within the Church. This divide also became clear with my appointment to the episcopate.
OÖN: In that regard, most of the criticism was about the way you were appointed. Many parishes had the impression that the decision was made without their input. Did the Church make mistakes?
Wagner: No. I don’t know who thinks that the decision was made over people’s heads. Why would the procedure be wrong in my case and right in someone else’s? We must acknowledge that there were people who immediately started to agitate when my appointment was announced. And there were others who did not notice how I was treated. Perhaps people should wonder how everything affected me. But everyone knows I have broad shoulders. This is about power struggles within the Church.
OÖN: Have these power struggles been resolved after your stepping down?
Wagner: What is clear is that, even if everything is quiet in the diocese, the problems are not resolved.
OÖN: Does that mean that the diocese should be ready for another turbulent year?
Wagner: We can count on it.When I say something that the people do not want to hear there is the risk that they will leave the Church. I really regret that development. But is it also not right when we avoid all heavy topics out of fear for the statistics. I don’t want the Church to only communicate silence.
OÖN: Is it also not so that the Church no longer addresses contemporary topics?
Wagner: When I say something that isn’t true anymore tomorrow, it is soon forgotten. The Word of God should serve to urge people on and give them food for thought. That’s why I hope that the bishops will have the courage to speak clearly. Even when they know that this will set things off.
OÖN: What are your wishes for the new auxiliary bishop?
Wagner: I wish him courage and confidence.