The Vatican has appointed Josef Marketz, 64, as the new Bishop of Klagenfurt-Gurk, Austria’s southernmost and second oldest diocese. After being named by Pope Francis on 3 December, Marketz gave an interview to Die Kleine Zeitung on 7 December in which he raised questions about priestly celibacy.
“There are many good reasons for abolishing compulsory priestly celibacy”, he told the newspaper. The need to abolish compulsory celibacy was “not so much because every man needs a wife at his side”, he explained, but more to do with loneliness. “I continually see how lonely elderly priests are whose own family are often no longer alive. It is extremely difficult to lead a dignified life in old age without a family,” he said.
Marketz, who is a member of the Slovene minority in Carinthia and is bi-lingual in Slovene and German, has been the director of the Carinthian Caritas for the past five years. He said he wanted to be a “Pope Francis bishop”, live modestly and care for the poor. “That is why I don’t want to move into the bishop’s residence,” he explained. He has always fought for a more humane treatment of refugees and immigrants and has sharply criticised the EU’s immigration policy.
The diocese of Klagenfurt-Gurk has been in turmoil since Bishop Alois Schwarz, who had been bishop since 2001, was transferred in July 2018 to the Lower Austrian diocese of Sankt Pölten, where is now bishop.
As Schwarz was accused of financial and personal misconduct during his time as bishop of the Carinthian diocese, the Vatican asked Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg to conduct a visitation of the diocese in 2018. The results of the visitation have never been published and Schwarz is still under investigation by Austrian courts. In October this year, the head of the Carinthian branch of the lay organisation “Forum of responsible Christians”, Gerda Schaffelhofer, wrote to Pope Francis urgently asking him to appoint a new bishop of Klagenfurt. The Pope answered her request within a few days in a personal letter in which he assured her that he understood the problem and would seek a solution. Marketz says he wants to persuade Schwarz to apologise to Carinthian Catholics for the turbulence he has caused. He will be consecrated in Klagenfurt Cathedral on 2 February 2020.