25 March 2021, The Tablet

We must do more than recite church teaching says new Swiss bishop 

We must do more than recite church teaching says new Swiss bishop 

Chur, on the banks of the Rhine, is believed to be the oldest town in Switzerland.
Westend61 GmbH / Alamy

A new Swiss bishop has said the Catholic Church must become more open and transparent.

“Ticking people off won’t achieve anything neither will prohibitions or regulations. Our Church must become humbler, more modest, more honest and more transparent,” the new Bishop of Chur, Joseph Maria Bonnemain, said at his installation on 19 March.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promotion of Christian Unity, who is Swiss, came up especially for the installation from Rome. 

The new Bishop of Chur, one of the oldest dioceses in the world, is 72, which is old for a first episcopal nomination. He would normally have to send in his resignation to the Pope in three years’ time. Pope Francis, however, has insisted he stay in office for at least five years as the diocese has been deeply polarised for years and Bonnemain has a reputation as a bridgebuilder.

Just 100 people were allowed to attend the ceremony at the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in Chur because of the Covid restrictions. It was Bonnemain’s wish that at the ceremony the readings and blessing wishes should be read and spoken by women. Members of the other Christian Churches were present but also a number of male and female prostitutes from Zürich. “Every man and every woman is precious”, Bonnemain emphasised in his address which he delivered in three languages – German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic. 

The Chur diocese was “sick” and needed therapy, Bonnemain, who has a degree in medicine, charged. It had occupied itself far too greatly with itself, with its structures, tensions and conflicts, he said. “We must understand and share people’s worries and not just recite church teaching and the Catechism from the balcony”, he declared.

The faithful should not put all their hopes in Bonnemain’s bridgebuilding as they must above all be prepared to “walk on to the bridges and shake hands”, Cardinal Koch warned in his address. 

Pope Francis stepped in last month to end a deadlock over the appointment of a new bishop in the diocese. The see became vacant when Bishop Vitus Huonder retired on on 20 May 2019, at the age of 77. Local media reported last November that Chur’s cathedral chapter had rejected all three candidates to succeed Huonder proposed by the Pope.

When the cathedral chapter is unable to choose a bishop, the Pope is free to appoint the new bishop directly. Francis did so, selecting Bonnemain, a member of Opus Dei who was on his original list of three.

Preaching at Mass in Chur Cathedral last month, Bonnemain announced that he would not be adopting an episcopal coat of arms. “The sign of the Cross of Christ is enough for me. And this, only this, I will use,” he said.



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