Virtual Josephite schism in Austria coming under Papal scrutiny
Anti-Papal Austrian bishops resurrect the Josephite heresy
Heresies are like fashions: wait long enough and an old heterodoxy will become modish again. The Catholic bishops of Austria have just resurrected Josephism, 219 years after the death of its instigator, Emperor Joseph II, who seized control of the Church, imposing 6,200 religious laws and even dictating the size of candles.
When the Pope recently selected Father Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop of Linz, shock waves ran through the episcopal ranks. Wagner is a doctrinal and liturgical conservative - in shorthand, a Catholic - and that is an automatic disqualification for wearing a mitre in trendy Austria.
The temper of the Austrian hierarchy can be gauged from the example of Bishop Reinhold Stecher who, on his retirement a decade ago, published a letter denouncing the then Pope John Paul II's insistence on clerical celibacy and ban on ordaining priestesses (an infallibly declared doctrine of faith).
What made the bishops so nervous about Father Wagner's appointment was the fact that the Austrian hierarchy is on the verge of a generational handover, with four bishops nearing retirement, and the faded 1960s trendies dread being succeeded by younger, more orthodox prelates.
So the screws were put on Father Wagner, who announced his renunciation of the post he had just accepted. He has since made a statement that his resignation was not voluntary.
The Austrian Bishops' Conference then issued an egregious pastoral letter that amounted to collective defiance of the Holy See.
Regarding episcopal appointments it stated that "before the Holy Father takes the final decision, reliable and thoroughly tested basic information must be provided on which he can rely".
That is barely coded language for a right of veto on appointments - as exercised historically by Joseph II.
The bishops want to eliminate any candidate with a whiff of orthodoxy about him or - horror of horrors - a penchant for the Latin Tridentine Mass.
The pastoral said: "This can ensure that bishops are appointed who are not 'against' but 'for' a local church." What is that supposed to mean?
So outrageous was the blatant defiance expressed in this pastoral letter and so profound the shock it is beginning to provoke among Catholics around the world for its impertinence towards the Pope that some of the bishops are beginning to backtrack and criticise the proceedings against Father Wagner.
Bishop Ludwig Schwarz of Linz has been summoned to Rome and the Linz Priests' Circle has said that forcing Wagner's withdrawal showed how anti-Roman forces and forces from outside the Church are rebelling against the Pope's God-given authority.
The bishops' concern to protect the modern liturgy is understandable: of Austria's 5.6 million Catholics, it now attracts a magnificent 13 per cent to Mass on Sundays.
The mindset betrayed by the pastoral was schismatic: a return to the Josephite concept of a self-contained Austrian Church, on the Gallican model.
It is difficult to regard the Austrian hierarchy as in full communion with Rome, in the light of its conduct.
Austria, like so many other countries, needs a complete change of personnel among its bishops. (Source: TTUK)