Today, on 15 June, there is a stunning story breaking in Austria. The Austrian magazine NEWS published a report that might turn out to be devastating for the Catholic Church in Austria, especially for its President, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, as well as for Austria’s Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Stephan Zurbriggen. Bishop Alois Schwarz is said to have had inappopriate relationships with two women; something the Church’s leadership knew but remained silent about.
As NEWS reports in its 24/2018 issue, Bishop Alois Schwarz – who was the Bishop of Gurk-Kagenfurt (Kärnten/ Carinthia) and is to become, on 1 July, the new Bishop of St. Pölten – has an unusual relationship with two women. One of them, Eva H., is his long-term housekeeper who already worked for him when he was still Auxiliary Bishop of Vienna. The other, Mrs. Andrea E. (the name is known to OnePeterFive), has been working for years now in leading positions in Schwarz’ diocese.
The NEWS report describes the relationship of the bishop to his housekeeper as a “pathological dependency”. Miss H. is said not only to have ruled the household, but also to have responsibilities with regard to the diocesan personnel. She is described as a kind of “minister for interior affairs.” Based on many eyewitness accounts and anonymous letters – some of which were sent to the media as well as to the Papal Nuncio of Austria Archbishop Peter Stephan Zurbriggen – the magazine proceeds to tell the story of what happened when Bishop Schwarz allowed Andrea E. to gain greater influence over him. Andrea E. was responsible for organizing pilgrimages for the diocese, and she gained more and more power, alienating many employees, so much so that it was even reported by the media in 2017. “Today, there are many people who are disappointed,” explains Bishop Schwarz’s former personal secretary about the atmosphere in the diocese. The faithful of the diocese were increasingly “uncomfortable” with the “public display of closeness” between the bishop and Andrea E., according to the NEWS report. Andrea E. is also called “Mrs. Bishop” among employees in the diocese, because she is “clearly the boss.” She is said not only to treat the bishop in a rough manner, but also other employees, “only more brutally.” In 2017, when she was the head of the diocesan education center St. Georgen, nearly the whole team of employees left their jobs.
As NEWS describes it, there arose a jealous relationship between these two women who are close to the bishop; that tension even led to “physical engagements” between the two women. People who worked in the diocese thought it “unbearable,” according to one source, to witness this “ménage a trois.”
In the meantime, Bishop Schwarz would, according to NEWS, occasionally make trips with Andrea E. to Vienna, in order to stay in an apartment owned by the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt and in order to attend an opera. Mrs. E. is also said to have renovated a hunting lodge owned by the Diocese for occasional trips with the bishop.
According to these reports, Bishop Schwarz allows women to have an undue influence over him and, with it, over diocesan affairs, which in turn has detrimental effects upon the working atmosphere and personnel of the whole Diocese. Such scandals, moreover, do not remain under the surface.
According to NEWS, the former general vicar of the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, Gerhard Christoph Kalidz, was dismissed by Bishop Schwarz after he confronted the bishop with two love letters written by Andrea E.
Archbishop Zurbgriggen, the Papal Nuncio of Austria, has so far not responded to media inquiries, according to NEWS. He had been, according to news reports at the time, already informed about some compromising love letters addressed to Bishop Schwarz, in 2008.
As long as ten years ago – Schwarz was then already the Bishop of Gurk-Klagenfurt – the “open secret” about Bishop Schwarz’ alleged romantic relationships had reached the public when the prominent Austrian newspaper Der Standard asked the bishop in an interview directly about such rumors. The newspaper then asked the bishop: “Do you have a female confidant who is close to you?” Bishop Schwarz then responded, saying that there are some women “who deal with me and my manner of life in a respectful manner, who pray with me and celebrate with me the Eucharist.” However, he realized, as he added, “that there are people who perceive possible sensibilities [sic] in another way than I.” “If I have given cause for suspicion, I am sorry,” Schwarz perfunctorily said.
Der Standard went even farther and asked Schwarz about one particular woman, “who did not fully freely leave her service for the diocese is said to have had an intimate relationship with you. Is this true?” The bishop responded with the evasive words: “This department chief had had a correct way of dealing with me”; he then claimed that this woman had left her job for procedural reasons (seemingly, her period of unpaid leave – “Karenz” – had ended). According to a June 2008 report of Der Standard, that particular woman had written some romantically revealing letters to Bishop Schwarz which were at the time shared with the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, as well as with the Papal Nuncio in Austria, both of whom, so far, have chosen not to act upon this matter in any public and palpable way.
However, this sort of reply was not yet enough for the Austrian newspaper. Its journalist asked Bishop Schwarz “Which measures will you take in order to remove any such speculations for good?” The prelate obscurely responded with these words: “I wish to continue my path of the spiritual service as bishop for the Church with inner strength.” He also thanked those involved for their prayers and asked those who have a “critical solidarity” with him to speak openly with him. That is to say, he gave a kind of evasive non-answer. He certainly did not give a reply that would put any doubts to rest.
What would trouble any Catholic observer is the question of why, after all this time, the bishop still has not resolved these scandalous relationships, even after having been confronted with them in public.
Now, ten years later, that rumor is still well and alive. Even before this NEWS report came out, some well-informed sources told us about the female factor in Bishop Schwarz’ life. These sources tell us that this ongoing relationship is an “open secret” in Austria. “Everybody knows it, but nobody speaks publicly about it,” one source tells us. Another source says: “Even the dogs in Klagenfurt know of that!”
The negative effects of this situation are already palpable. When the news broke on 16 May that Bishop Schwarz will be transferred to St. Pölten, some commentators in the respective comment boxes wrote the following: “Is this the Schwarz who has a girlfriend?” “[If so,] I would be nearly relieved. At least someone who likes women.:)” In the comment box of another report on this new appointment, one commentator asks: “I wonder whether Mrs. X [name removed by OnePeterFive] will move now to St. Pölten, too?” Eight readers “liked” this comment.
In comments to be found under yet another report on this Vatican personnel decision, there are several commentators who discuss the matter of “Bishop Schwarz’ companion” and as to whether a priest should or should not have a wife. One person states “who can understand the Vatican’s personnel decisions?”
Yet another person comments: “The question now is only who else will move with him to St. Pölten?” This comment is followed by a discussion as to whether Bishop Schwarz had not taken someone to Klagenfurt in the first place, when he arrived there from Vienna (where had the position of an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Vienna, Austria). The exchange goes as follows:
This … is not fully true. He WAS asked to go to Kärnten [Carinthia]. The “Viennese problem” [Eva H.] followed him, not according to a plan, as can be heard from well-informed sources. In the merry city of Klagenfurt, there then doubled (at least) this confusion.
To return to the NEWS report on this Schwarz affair: the magazine also writes that Bishop Schwarz had recently employed a former intelligence agent, Gert-René Polli, in order to “find weak points in the diocese,” according to the official explanation. However, according to NEWS, this man was more involved in finding out who in the diocese was critical of the bishop and his doings – that is to say, he was more involved in “spying on employees” and, in the words of one source, in finding out the “moles” in the diocese. One pastor of the diocese even posted on 23 April of this year on his Facebook the comment: “I and my family have been spied upon by my own boss, with the help of a former intelligence agent!”
Another part of the story, as the Austrian website Kath.net reports it, relates to Bishop Schwarz’ covering up for a deacon in his diocese who is now accused of sexually abusing a young man.
The official installment of Bishop Schwarz in St. Pölten is set for 1 July. Cardinal Schönborn, who is the President of the Austrian bishops’ conference, is then to come to St. Pölten, too. He might have to answer at that time some searching questions. Some of the future co-workers in the Diocese of St. Pölten, who are not used to such a new situation, might also ask some searching and honorable questions themselves.
OnePeterFive reached out to the office of Bishop Schwarz, asking for comment. In a statement sent to us, Bishop Schwarz denies any such allegations with regard to undue relationships with women. He states: “I stress that my collaboration with female employees has always taken place in an appropriate manner.” Schwarz adds that he has an “honest adherence to celibacy and its related way of life.” As bishop, he says he is “bound to a promise of loyalty which I keep and whose preservation is essential for me.”
OnePeterFive also reached out some weeks ago to the press offices of Pope Francis and of Cardinal Schönborn, asking for comment. We have received no response from either.
Until 1 July, there would be time enough for Pope Francis to learn the truth and then clean up these rumors – either by a removal of this bishop, or by a thorough investigation of these claims. Or, else he might have yet another grave burden on his shoulders.
Why does the pope – and with him Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the head of the Austrian bishops – effectively ignore such a moral scandal, instead of frankly and manfully addressing it? Is this the way the Catholic faith will regain her strength?
Lately, Pope Francis has been dealt a number of embarrassments, some of which he does not even seem to wish to address (for example, the Cardinal Maradiaga scandal). As Sandro Magister, Italy’s most respected Vatican specialist, just pointed out, three members of the papal Council of Nine Cardinals seem to be compromised. Most of these compromised cardinals are involved, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, in sexual abuse cases. So far, the pope has not taken any step to remove them from their office in a punitive act. Cardinal Francisco Errázuriz, for example, who has been accused of covering up for the abusing Chilean priest, Father Fernando Karadima, just attended the June meeting of the Council of Nine Cardinals in Rome. Together with Pope Francis.
It remains an open question whether Cardinal Schönborn — or the Vatican — have any interest in taking steps to minimize such scandals — or the appearance thereof — and appoint qualified and capable men to the episcopacy.