Bishop nomination is Vatican’s demonstration of power, say critics

The appointment of Ägidius Zsifkovics as new bishop of the Eisenstadt diocese has been branded a “reckless demonstration of power by the Vatican.”Theologian Paul Zulehner said he was “disappointed” to hear of today’s (Fri) decision of the Austrian Roman Catholic Church to make Zsifkovics the successor of Paul Iby.”I don’t think he will be accepted by a majority of believers,” he said. Zulehner added: “This decision is a missed chance.”Independent platform “Wir sind Kirche” (We are the Church) claimed the Catholic Church ignored “several more capable candidates”.Its head Hans Peter Hurka said he expected this decision to further increase the already soaring “departure figures”.More than 30,000 Austrians left the Church in the first three months of this year, up by 42 per cent compared to the same time span of 2009 when more people than ever cancelled their membership.Research has shown that people are outraged over the Church’s reluctant reaction to hundreds of alleged violent and sexual abuses by clergy.Hurka said Zsifkovics was an “ideal enforcer” of the Vatican’s decisions, adding that the secluded way the Church named its bishops was “not acceptable”.The Austrian Lay Initiative labelled the 47-year-old’s nomination “another reckless demonstration of power by the Vatican which must not be accepted”.Iby is regarded as a spearhead of the Austrian Catholic’s moderate block, while Güssing-born Zsifkovics has been described as extremely conservative with strong links to backward-looking decision-makers in the Vatican.Zsifkovics has headed the parish of Wulkaprodersdorf, Burgenland, and also acted as general secretary of the Austrian Conference of Bishops.Iby informed the Vatican of his wish to resign as he turned 75 last January. His appeal to hold a more open-minded debate about delicate issues such as the mandatory celibacy rule for priests angered conservative colleagues, while Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn publicly backed Iby.Opinion research company GfK Austria said last month 80 per cent of the 500 parish Roman Catholic priests across Austria it spoke with supported calls for an abandonment of the ruling. The agency also revealed that 51 per cent said women should be allowed to become priests.