|| Haas appointment brings high drama to tiny
principality of Liechtenstein
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
While the tiny Alpine principality of Liechtenstein is known around the world primarily as a tax haven and a bastion of superannuated European royalty, it has over the past year also been the scene of high ecclesial drama focusing on its new archbishop, Wolfgang Haas.
Haas had been the bishop of the Swiss diocese of Chur until December of 1997, when the Vatican made him the head of the brand-new archdiocese of Vaduz in Liechtenstein. With a total population of 31,000 (25,000 Catholics) spread over 62 square miles, Liechtenstein is a sovereign nation that had been part of the Chur diocese for 1,500 years.
The highly unusual decision to create a new archdiocese reflected Romes desperation to resolve tensions in Chur that had steadily escalated under Haas.
In 1988, John Paul appointed the conservative Haas coadjutor bishop of Chur with right of succession, thus bypassing the cathedral chapters traditional right to elect its bishop from a set of three names proposed by Rome. The decision was never accepted by many; Haas had to enter the cathedral for his installation ceremony in 1990 through a back door, sidestepping more than 200 protesters who had lined the front entrance with their bodies.
The Chur diocese encompasses seven of Switzerlands cantons, or provinces, including the city of Zurich -- known for its progressive brand of Catholicism.
Once in office, Haas earned the nickname of the oilskin bishop because arguments, it was said, ran off of him like water. He favored far-right groups seeking greater influence in parishes and seminaries. His reputation for pastoral rigidity led Auxiliary Bishop Paul Vollmar in 1996 to assert that no new beginning was possible until we have a change in bishop. Later the Swiss bishops council publicly backed Vollmars statement.
Fr. Martin Kopp, head of the Council of Priests in Chur, was even more blunt in 1997, telling the Associated Press that Haas was psychologically incapable of listening to opponents. Speaking of a fractious meeting between Haas and his priests, Kopp said, At the end, people in the room were furious. They said to him either you are wicked or you are very, very ill.
Personally, I believe the latter is true, Kopp said. We have a madman at the head of the diocese. And hes wrecking it.
When Haas appointed three deeply conservative priests as episcopal vicars, even the Swiss government asked the Vatican to intervene.
Romes decision to shift Haas to Liechtenstein was greeted with alarm there. The parliament voted 24-1 to oppose creating a new archdiocese; a letter signed by more than 8,000 Catholics, almost a third of the churchs membership, asked that Haas stay in Switzerland.
Since arriving in Liechtenstein, Haas has deepened rifts between the popularly-elected government and the prince, Hans-Adam II, who still exercises control over many areas of public life.
Because the Catholic church has since 1921 been the Landeskirche, or established church in Liechtenstein, many of its activities are administered by town councils using public funds. In effect its a quasi-democratic system of church governance, which elected officials want to maintain and Haas has vowed to undo. The archbishop has said he will seek a new concordat, or treaty, between the government and the Vatican, presumably restoring most powers over church affairs to the archbishop.
Hans-Adam has rejected the idea of a concordat, saying any grant of authority to the government over the church would violate Vatican II. Instead he wants a complete disentangling of church and state.
The prince was publicly neutral on Haas appointment. Unlike members of parliament who boycotted the installation ceremony, however, Hans-Adam attended, where he was heckled outside but greeted with an ovation inside.
Upon taking office, Haas published a letter saying he knew many people had been angered and hurt by his transfer and that he himself felt deep pain. He later pledged to try to be a bishop of the heart.
The Haas affair led to the creation of the first Catholic reform group in Liechtenstein, the Union for an Open Church led by Wolfgang Seeger. The group played host to this weeks European Network meeting.
National Catholic Reporter, January 8, 1999