Bad timing

The pope just named a new bishop in Austria's diocese of Linz. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't hear or care much about European auxiliary bishops. But this one -- as reported by Inquirer.net (as well as the BBC) -- is hard to ignore:

Gerhard Maria Wagner, 54, the rector of Windischgarsten parish, first gained notice in 2001 when he described J. K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter novels -- which take place in a witchcraft and wizardry school -- as "satanism" and warned against the magical spells and formulas used in the novels.After the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, he again commented: "It's no coincidence that in New Orleans all five abortion clinics as well as night clubs were destroyed."And he asked: "Is the noticeable rise in natural disasters a consequence of environmental pollution or rather of spiritual pollution?"

(h/t Whispers in the Loggia.)It's one thing to say that the SSPX decision has nothing to do with the outrageous views of one (or many?) of the group's members. But this is a straightforward promotion to a position of greater influence in the Church. So does the timing of this appointment count as yet more evidence that the pope is totally unaware of the problems he's causing? Or is he intentionally setting fires to serve some higher purpose? And does he think that this sort of backward biblical literalism makes for good bishop material... or is he just having trouble finding better candidates? (Ambitious priests, take note: A few well-placed inflammatory comments could put you in the running for the next vacancy!)Of course, Benedict himself has reportedly advised caution when approaching Harry Potter. But while overreacting to a children's book is embarrassing, the remarks about Katrina are far more upsetting. Perhaps it's easier to draw simplistic morals from the devastation of a city, and the disproportionate effect on its poorest residents, when you're watching the whole ugly mess unfold from Europe. But that's not the kind of prophecy I'd like to see rewarded -- especially not this week.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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