Swiss bishop allows lay appeal for women’s ordination

19 May 2014 | by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

The Bishop of Basel, Felix Gmür, has permitted the democratically elected Basel Catholic church corporations (“katholische Landeskirchen beider Basel”), which are officially only responsible for church finances, to formulate an initiative appealing for equality between men and women as far as ordination to the priesthood is concerned.

The Basel “Landeskirchen” first submitted their equality initiative in 2012, aiming to oblige the church authorities to “work towards” women’s ordination. But as Bishop Gmür explained at the time, the faithful could ask their bishop to pass on proposals and wishes but they could not oblige him to change canon law, that in this case decreed that only men could be ordained.

Gmür and the “Landeskirchen” have since reached a comprise in the wording of the initiative which the bishop sanctioned on 8 May. Instead of obliging the church authorities to “work towards” equality, that is, that women could be ordained like men, the initiative now says the church authorities “submit the proposal” for equality.

“I personally can imagine a woman at the altar but it would be difficult to put into practice,” Bishop Gmür recently told the Swiss daily Aargauerzeitung. “Such a process would be a crucial test for the Church that might tear it apart. I’m afraid there would be schisms. We should first discuss the celibacy rule for men as that is only a matter of church discipline and not a doctrinal issue. In my view celibacy is not an essential precondition for the priesthood.”

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