“Not tenable in sankt polten either”

Resignations in the Catholic Church in Carinthia have increased since the allegations against the former bishop of Gurk-Klagenfurt, Alois Schwarz, became known. This also has consequences for his current office, according to journalist Klaus Prompers.

Interviewer: Why do these reports come up only now?

Klaus Prompers (Journalist): There were already first reports in summer, when Schwarz was transferred, so to speak, from Carinthia, from the diocese Gurk-Klagenfurt to Sankt Polten, near Vienna. But that was only a small flare-up at that time. However, the subsequent diocesan administrator Guggenberger, the cathedral provost of the diocese, has arranged that several measures that the former bishop Schwarz had taken for Gurk-Klagenfurt are to be annulled.

It began a clarification of the diocesan budgets of the last four years on the one hand. On the other hand, the clarification of the so-called Mensalgut [Note. d. Red.: Church assets of a Catholic bishop for personal use]. Mensalgut is a very foreign term, it goes back to a foundation, in this case of St. Hemma of Gurk, the provincial saint of Carinthia, who left a large sum to the bishop. I would say we are talking about the diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt being basically the richest diocese in Austria, after the end of World War II. In the area of the Mensalgutes there is no accountability at all. We know this from the situation in Limburg.

Interviewer: It is about money that has disappeared. That is, this nevertheless damning balance of the 17 bishop years of Bishop Alois Schwarz have probably triggered the anger of the cathedral chapter?

Prompers: Not only the anger of the cathedral chapter, but also that of the faithful. Bishop Schwarz was brought there by the Vatican as an auxiliary bishop in the summer of 2001, as bishop for the diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt. As early as 2006, there are complaints about his behavior. This is traceable in the media, but certainly even more traceable in the archives of the Archdiocese of Salzburg, as well as the Archdiocese of Vienna. It was not only a matter of finances, but he must have cultivated a very authoritarian style in the course of the 17 years he ruled there. Strengthened by a relatively close relationship with a director of an educational house, Andrea Enzinger, who must have influenced him very strongly. Of course, no one knows for sure.

Interviewer: That is, the bishop, who was committed to celibacy, had a wife at his side?

Prompers: That doesn't seem to me to be the main thing, because he also denies that sexual relations should have occurred there. This may be believed at first, but the more decisive point is that this lady has also run down this Bildungshaus Sankt Georgen in the last four years. This is an educational house with 64 rooms. It has now shown an occupancy of only 47 percent during the year, which is a disaster. In part, this has contributed to the deficit. The cathedral chapter complains after a detailed audit by auditors that at least 1.9 million euros have been squandered, and the provost of the cathedral has announced that recourse of a financial nature will also be sought against the former bishop.

Interviewer: Now the diocesan administrator wanted to make everything public in a press conference. Is that correct that the Vatican has forbidden this project?

Prompers: In this specific case, the Congregation of Bishops did that, because it is the highest examining authority for missteps of a bishop – whether they are of a financial or other nature. In the meantime the Vatican has even acted further. Salzburg Archbishop Franz Lackner, who is responsible for the diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, is to conduct an audit. He will do so from mid-January, as he said.

Interviewer: Where is the challenge now?

Prompers: The difficulty lies in two things. First, it has led to increasing departures from Carinthia's Catholic Church since all this became clearer and more transparent this summer. There were already this year up to now 1000 resignations more than in the previous year.

Secondly, the distrust of what has happened in the past is of course overwhelming. Many have expressed themselves in many e-mails, letters, telephone calls to the cathedral chapter. So the diocesan administrator Guggenberger, who is also the provost of the cathedral, felt compelled to appear before the press together with the college a week after the Vatican had banned it. Above all, of course, to create transparency before Christmas. For Bishop Schwarz had quoted from the until then confidential expert opinion and the audit report and had always said that he was not substantially at fault. He was already somewhat in debt, but nothing substantial, according to Schwarz. With 1.9 million euros, you could say it's already something substantial.

Interviewer: How will the situation in Carinthia develop further??

Prompers: Has to be seen, but it has caused a wave of mistrust in Carinthia and beyond. Especially since many say that basically in the Bishops' Conference of Austria from 2008 the complaints about the authoritarian style of Bishop Schwarz were known.

Interviewer: Now the Vatican will send a special investigator to Carinthia, who has all kinds of things to clear up. Dare you predict how something like this will turn out and whether it will bring peace again?

Prompers: First, I think the Vatican will appoint a new bishop for Gurk-Klagenfurt very soon, in order to contribute a little bit to the pacification. And I dare to predict that Alois Schwarz will not be tenable as bishop in Sankt Polten either. So he will have to vacate his chair, so you have another sedis vacancy. This means that a new bishop will have to be sent to St. Polten once again. Because what he has done in Carinthia for 17 years is certainly so serious according to all that is known so far. By what one can read from the audit report on the Internet, his position as bishop in Polten will also not be tenable.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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