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Pope Reverses Appointment of Controversial Austrian Bishop

Pope Benedict XVI agreed Monday to cancel his decision to name a controversial Austrian cleric as bishop which caused a storm in Vienna, even among Roman Catholic leaders, a Vatican statement said.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican

Pope Benedict has been forced to back-track on Wagner's appointment

The pope agreed to annul the appointment of ultra-conservative Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop of Linz at the cleric's own request, made because of the criticism, the statement said.

Wagner, 54, has repeatedly provoked controversy in recent years.

He described the Harry Potter novels as "Satanism" and implied that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Southeast Asia were divine punishment for "spiritual pollution."

Following his appointment at the end of January Austrian bishops accused the pope of ignoring established procedures for the selection and examination of candidates for preferment.

All but four of 35 deans present at a meeting of the Linz diocese, in northern Austria, refused to accept the nomination.

Wagner eventually announced that he wanted to withdraw because of the "hefty criticism," a move welcomed by many church leaders.

The storm came as the Vatican was already under fire for lifting the excommunication of Richard Williamson, one of four bishops in a conservative breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, who denied that six million Jews were gassed by the Nazis during World War II.

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