The Pope has personally promised to “seek a solution” for the embattled Austrian diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, rocked by allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against a former bishop.

Driving the news

As The Tablet reports, this week came news that Francis had replied to the “Forum of Responsible Christians” (Forum Mündiger Christen) of the southern Austrian diocese.

At the end of July, the Forum sent a petition with 5,600 signatures to the Pope asking for help to end the internal tensions that have been wracking the local Church for over a year.

The “Responsible Christians” asked Francis to appoint to the presently vacant diocese the former diocesan administrator, Engelbert Guggenberger.

In response to the petition, the Pope wrote in a letter dated August 7: “I have read your letter with great care and understand the significance of your problem”.

He also promised to speak to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, “in order to assess the situation and to seek a solution”, as soon as Ouellet returns from holidays.

Francis’ letter was written in his own hand and signed “Franziskus”.

Why it matters

The trouble in the diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt began about 18 months ago, when allegations of financial and personal misconduct surfaced against Bishop Alois Schwarz.

In July 2018, Schwarz left Gurk-Klagenfurt – where he had been bishop for 17 years – to become Bishop of Sankt Pölten.

But Guggenberger, who took over then as diocesan administrator, set out quickly on an investigation of the former bishop “to restore lost confidence in the diocesan leadership”.

In December 2018, Guggenberger published a report from a diocesan working group, including independent experts, on the “problems and questions” surrounding Schwarz’s 17-year tenure at the helm of Austria’s wealthiest diocese.

Those “problems and questions” included multi-million euro financial losses, an affair with a woman and a “negative working atmosphere” among priests and other employees of the diocese.

Schwarz denies the allegations.

What’s next

The Forum of Responsible Christians was formed in June this year, just after the Pope appointed Bishop Werner Freistetter, Austria’s bishop for the Armed Forces, as the new diocesan administrator.

This group of priests and laity told local media Pope Francis had given them hope with his latest letter.

Next on Novena:

Pope takes reins of Austrian diocese hit by bishop’s sex, financial scandals