(1917 – 1992)
For peace and reconciliation
Bishop Joseph Gargitter acted as an important mediator during the most serious disputes about South Tyrol’s autonomy. In February 1960, in a pastoral letter issued for Lent, he expressed his concern about the attacks, still sporadic at the time, instead calling for a level-headed policy: “Anyone who resorts to unlawful violence in the name of justice has already placed himself in the wrong”. He strongly criticised the bombings of 1961, which earned him the nickname “Walscher Seppl [Joe the Dupe]” in patriotic circles. At the same time, Gargitter vehemently condemned the Italian government for the mistreatment of the arrested bombers. Overall, the Church exerted a quiet but lasting influence on the positive course of the autonomy negotiations.
South Tyrol was not at that time a unified diocese. Both Bozen/Bolzano and Meran/o had for historical reasons belonged to the Diocese of Trento, while the northern part of South Tyrol belonged to the Diocese of Brixen/Bressanone, which also included North and East Tyrol. However, this can be interpreted more as a symbolic adherence to Tyrolean unity, since the Austrian areas of the diocese were subject to their own bishop as an “Apostolic Administrature”. Gargitter’s appointment as Apostolic Administrator of Trento in 1961 was thus all the more significant and was probably intended to strengthen his position as a mediator in South Tyrol. In fact Gargitter was very active in exercising the Church’s then influence, with the new party leader and future provincial governor Silvius Magnago very careful to coordinate every step of his policies with the Church and the bishop.
Gargitter was replaced as Apostolic Administrator in 1963. In August 1964, however, the diocesan boundaries were redrawn and the South Tyrolean parts of the Diocese of Trento were joined with the Diocese of Bozen/Bolzano-Brixen/Bressanone. Magnago’s demand for “Away from Trento” was thus implemented by the Church in both a pioneering and peaceful manner. Gargitter continued to exercise his episcopal office as a mediator between the different language groups and parties to the conflict until 1986 when, at his own request, he was granted retirement for health reasons by Pope John Paul II.
Named after him, the Joseph Gargitter Prize is awarded every three years by the Catholic Forum and the Consulta diocesana delle aggregazioni laicali [Diocesan Council of Lay Congregations] to those who have distinguished themselves through their efforts to achieve justice, peace and the preservation of creation in South Tyrol.