24 May 2020, The Tablet

Woman appointed as Catholic bishop's delegate

Woman appointed as Catholic bishop's delegate

Swiss Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva and Friburg has appointed a woman theologian to succeed the present episcopal vicar.

On 1 August, Marianne Pohl-Henzen will succeed the present episcopal vicar for the German part of the diocese. 

Pohl-Henzen (60) studied theology and philology at university and has three children and four grandchildren. For the past eight years, she been the right hand of the present episcopal-vicar of the German-speaking vicariate (region in the diocese) of Fribourg, Fr Pascal Marquard, who is moving to Zurich.

The diocese has announced that in her new post, she will be “the person responsible in the vicariate/diocesan region in the bishop’s name”. In other words,  as from 1 August, she will represent the bishop in the vicariate and will be a member of the episcopal council.

Vatican News first called her an “episcopal vicar” but later withdrew the term. According to church law, only priests can become episcopal vicars. Church papers are now calling her an “episcopal delegate” or “episcopal adjutant”.

She herself recalled in a KNA interview, that, unlike her predecessor, she would not be able will to administer confirmation, install parish priests or hold funerals for priests, “that is anything to do with Sacraments and liturgy”.

She understood her appointment as a sign that Bishop Morerod “was doing what he could to promote women in the Church”, she said.

She told domradio.de that “this time” there had not been a lot of discussion before she was appointed. “I think that if I had been appointed 8 or even five years ago, that would have been a far bigger watershed. However, as the last three episcopal vicars were all only part-time episcopal vicars and I did a lot of their work, it will hopefully be a lot easier for me now and easier for the faithful and the population to accept me (in the position)”, she said.

One of her chief concerns would be to promote and engage the laity wherever possible in the diocese, she said. A lot of priests would soon be retiring and there were no new vocations.

Asked if she planned to become a Catholic woman bishop, she replied: “No, certainly not. It was never my plan. Neither did I plan to become an episcopal delegate, that is to act as a delegate for the bishop, which I have now become. It just happened with the experience and the years and above all with the confidence the bishop had in me.”

There are five episcopal vicars in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg. Each is appointed by the bishop as his deputy in the five diocesan vicariates. 

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