Church speaks out after Wagner comments on earthquake

Senior Catholic figures in Austria have been forced to speak out after controversial comments by an ultra-conservative pastor over the Haiti earthquake.Pastor Gerhard Maria Wagner had claimed 90 per cent of Haitians practised voodoo in an interview published in the newspaper Kurier on Sunday when he was asked if the Haitian earthquake had been God’s punishment of human sin.He told the paper: “I do not know, but it is interesting that 90 per cent of Haitians belong to the cult of voodoo.”Wagner, a pastor in Windischgarsten, Upper Austria, had previously claimed that Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the tsunami in Southeast Asia had been God’s punishment of human sin.But Linz General Vicar Severin Lederhilger reacted quickly following the comments and said on Sunday contemporary Catholic theological teaching held that it was “completely inappropriate and unacceptable” to call natural catastrophes “God’s punishment” of the immoral behaviour of victims, according to Catholic press agency Kathpress.The vicar said it was a “cynical and fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible” to claim such catastrophes were “a punishment by God the creator”.But he said it was legitimate to ask whether human behaviour had helped cause them.”Lack of respect for nature can have negative consequences,” he added.Kathpress said 80 per cent of Haitians were Catholics and 10 per cent followed other Christian religions. It added that only a few people were members of Haiti’s “voodoo” cult and most did not perceive a conflict between it and Christianity.In the same interview, Wagner also called for a national referendum on the issue of construction of minarets.He said: “One must take people’s concerns seriously and not always criminalise everything. Islam is a danger and must be kept under observation.”Wagner made headlines last year when he was nominated as Linz’s auxiliary bishop by Pope Benedict XVI. The news was greeted with public outcry because of the pastor’s conservative views and controversial comments and the nomination was later withdrawn.The ultra-conservative priest has in the past labelled the Harry Potter books “the work of Satan” and claimed homosexuality was “curable.”Partly in response to Wagner’s nomination, the number of Catholics leaving the Church soared last year, according to Kathpress.It reported last month that 53,216 people, or 0.96 per cent of Austrian Catholics, had left the Church last year – 30.9 per cent more than in 2008.The increase in Church departures last year was highest in Linz diocese – 43.5 per cent. Many observers said that had largely been the result of Wagner’s nomination.Meanwhile Red Cross, Caritas, CARE charity, Licht für die Welt and the Agriculture Chamber have set up accounts for donations to help Haiti earthquake victims, which can be made to:CARE: PSK 1.236.000 (BLZ 60.000) – password: “Haiti”;Caritas: PSK 7.700 004, (BLZ 60.000) – password: “Erdbeben Haiti”,Austrian Red Cross (Österreichisches Rotes Kreuz): PSK: 2.345.000 (BLZ 60.000) – password: “Erdbeben Haiti”;Licht für die Welt: PSK 92.011.650 (BLZ 60.000) – password: “Haiti-Aufbauhilfe”;Agriculture Chamber: PSK account 90.311.400 (BLZ 60.000).