More and more evidence is coming out about Bishop Alois Schwarz, the former Austrian bishop of Gurk-Klagenfurt who is now the new bishop of St. Pölten. Reports claim that he covered up for an abusive deacon and for a morally corrupt priest. The Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt’s new diocesan administrator is losing no time in his investigations and has now put Schwarz’ close female confidante on a leave of absence.
As OnePeterFive reported at the end of June, Bishop Schwarz had come under criticism for having two intimate relationships with female companions, one of them his housekeeper, the other an employee in his diocese.
Since Bishop Schwarz left his former diocese and since his installment as the Bishop of St. Pölten on 1 July, news keeps coming out of Austria concerning the administrative and moral confusion that this prelate left behind. As the Austrian news website Kath.net reports, the new diocesan administrator and former vicar general, Monsignor Engelbert Guggenberger, did not wait long and started a process of reform. Guggenberger desires now “to restore lost confidence in the diocesan leadership,” thus indirectly admitting that the former bishop caused a loss of that confidence. He has also named a commission to investigate the financial state of the diocese.
According to another Kath.net article, Guggenberger stated, only 24 hours after assuming his new office, that Bishop Schwarz had violated Church law. On 3 July, he ordered the removal of the statutes, established only in February of 2018, that had removed any power of oversight and control from the diocesan financial council. These statutes, according to Guggenberger, were “contrary to the Church’s law concerning property.”
As Kath.net reported on 6 July, Guggenberger now also speaks openly about his own attempts to speak with Bishop Schwarz about the ongoing problems in his diocese. “I have, just like other high-ranking Church representatives and leaders, personally spoken with the bishop – as well with some committees – about problematic developments and perceptions concerning his personal circle of acquaintances.” However, the prelate adds, he and other people soon had to realize that they were increasingly deprived of any possibility of influencing decisions in the diocese.
Only on 7 July, news broke that the new diocesan leadership decided to put on a leave of absence, until the end of August, one of the two women who were quite scandalously close and intimate with Bishop Schwarz. Mrs. Andrea E. had until now headed up the formation center of St. Georgen, which belongs to the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt. She had been accused of using her close relationship with the bishop for her own personal agenda and of causing many employees to leave their positions.
This piece of news also confirms that the initial reports about Bishop Schwarz’s unusually intimate relationship with this woman – with whom he would go on trips as a “couple” – has caused much scandal in his diocese, as OnePeterFive confirmed.
On another note, recent news also brought to light that, in spite of public criticism of Bishop Schwarz’s close relationship with his housekeeper, he decided to take her along with him from Klagenfurt to his new diocese. It is another sign that he seems oblivious to public (as well as private) criticism of his conduct as a bishop.
News.at, an Austrian secular magazine, brought before the public, in the last few weeks, many grave charges against Bishop Schwarz. The bishop until now has not initiated any lawsuit against them, thus making the charges now appear even more credible. The respected website Kath.net also reported on these charges. Kath.net is Austrian and thus probably has its own background information in this matter.
Two cases – for which News.at provides many specific sources, some of them even with personal names – are especially troubling. There is first a deacon and teacher of religion who has been accused by a man, Jack B., of sexual abuse in an orphanage (SOS Kinderdorf) over the course of three years when that man was eleven to fourteen years of age. This alleged victim, who changed his name due to threats addressed to him by his abuser, has received some financial restitution (and thus an acknowledgment of the abuse) by an Austrian restitution program for victims of abuse by clergy (Klasnic Commission), yet the deacon is still not punished, and seemingly protected, in the Diocese of Klagenfurt. Thus, the responsibility lies in Bishop Schwarz’s hands, to account for why this clergyman has not yet been fittingly punished.
The second case concerns a priest – Father “Amon” (the real name is known to OnePeterFive) – who sexually harassed an unmarried woman, Elke Meisl, even with confirming written evidence – who later, after the woman’s public intervention, stepped down from his position as pastor of three parishes. He is, however, still an active priest in the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt. “I have always covered up for him,” Bishop Schwarz himself is quoted as saying in that report. Bishop Schwarz himself also said Father Amon admitted in part his guilt. That clergyman, according to News.at, had earlier been found guilty of consuming child pornography, even before he became an ordained priest. Yet he still was ordained by Bishop Schwarz, in spite of the fact that Schwarz had been informed about the immoral practices of that man.
As News.at says, the Church hierarchy in Austria “has been informed for more than a decade about the events [surrounding Bishop Schwarz], but they did not respond to internal letters or other complaints.” After the publication of the initial report on Bishop Schwarz’s scandalous activities and his subsequent transfer to another diocese, the Vatican merely answered, upon request: “We do not comment on these events.” A speaker in Rome referred the journalists to the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, whose president is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. Cardinal Schönborn’s own speaker then insisted that Schönborn “is not responsible for the work of another bishop” and that he does not have any “task of monitoring” other bishops. “And he [Schönborn] does not have any access to any further information,” added the official speaker. To make things worse, Archbishop Peter Zurbriggen, the papal nuncio in Austria, did not respond at all to the requests by News.at.
Gerda Schaffelhofer, the president of Austria’s large lay organization, Katholische Aktion, commented on the Bishop Schwarz scandal and expressed hope that “the credibility of the Catholic Church” may yet be restored. Each person has to ask himself “whether he is a credible representative of the Church,” she added. Franz Zlanabitnig, the former secretary of Bishop Schwarz in Carinthia, now says that “the right steps have to be taken, as a consequence.”
So far, Bishop Schwarz has declined to comment on any of the media reports. OnePeterFive also reached out to him, without success, on 22 June. Nonetheless, he was installed on 1 July as the new bishop of St. Pölten, in the presence of both Cardinal Schönborn and Archbishop Zurbriggen.
As one commentator writes in the comment section under Kath.net’s recent article, “there are several priests of Kärnten [Carinthia] who quite a while ago turned to the nunciature and to Rome and who had given warnings. They did not even receive a response. It is, unfortunately, not an exception that bishops who cover up for abuses make a career in the Church.” They seem even to be protected with “top cover.”
The post has been updated.