It's not everyday that a diocese loses two bishops in a single day. For the explosive Swiss diocese of Chur, this Monday is particularly emotionally charged. Which chief shepherd is at ie?
The Catholics of Graubunden, Schwyz and Zurich experienced a very unusual day on Monday: Amedee Grab, the beloved former bishop of Chur, died at 89 – and the resignation of his successor Vitus Huonder (77) was accepted by Pope Francis. An emotional balancing act in the explosive Swiss diocese.
Benedictine Grab led the diocese from 1998 to 2007. In Chur, he took on the difficult succession of the extremely conservative current Archbishop of Vaduz/Liechtenstein, Wolfgang Haas (1988/90-1997), against whom many Chur Catholics had run up a storm.
Haas, who is now 70 years old, was appointed directly by the Vatican – bypassing the rights of the diocese – and his attitude and personnel decisions upset the people of the church in Chur, who were accustomed to co-determination. After years of conflict, John Paul II moved. Haas in 1997 to the newly created archdiocese of Vaduz in the dwarf state of Liechtenstein.
Squabbles over Bishop Huonder
Haas' successor, Amedee Grab, succeeded as a mediator in largely smoothing the waters of the dispute between the bishop and the people of the church in the diocese. But under his conservative successor Huonder many conflicts broke out again. Huonder polarized his flock, which includes strongly rural cantons as well as the financially strong Catholics of the metropolis of Zurich.
Dissatisfied even moved to the seat of the then bishops' conference president in 2014 to demonstrate for Huonder's dismissal.
The discontent was not ignited by expensive buildings or cases of sexual abuse, as elsewhere, but by the teaching. Huonder, in office since 2007, insisted on the letter of the Catholic, and he never shied away from demanding it as binding. There were many disputes: about abortion financing, the handling of homosexuality, marriage and family, or the management of the seminary.
Swiss tick grassroots democracy, ever since the legendary Rutli oath in the Middle Ages. This also applies to the Catholics – who are even less willing to submit to conservative bishops than those of other Western European democracies. Swiss state church law is influenced by Protestant elements and grants the laity more co-determination than bishops usually like and than is provided for in general church law.
The protesters complained that the Swiss bishops were putting up with Huonder dictating the ies and, "We have had enough of disciplinarian attitudes, of hard-hearted theology and pessimistic bishops who distrust the faithful."Huonder's supporters always argued that the bishop was acting in accordance with church doctrine and church law.
Former bishop of Reykjavik becomes transitional leader
Upon reaching the age of 75, Huonder dutifully offered the pope his resignation; and critics amed Francis would seize the opportunity to end the struggle in Chur. But the pope surprisingly left the controversial shepherd in office for two more years.
Now, at 77, Huonder is moving to a home in the traditionalist community, according to a communique released Monday by himself and the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, Davide Pagliarani. It is in Wangs in the canton of Sankt Gallen, where the brotherhood maintains a school. "The intention and purpose of this step is solely to devote himself to prayer and silence, to celebrate exclusively the traditional Mass and to work for tradition, in which he recognizes the only means for the renewal of the Church."
As interim leader in Chur, Francis appointed former Reykjavik bishop Pierre Burcher as so-called apostolic administrator. Burcher, 73, a Swiss national, was auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg from 1994 to 2007. At the time, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him. to the bishop of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik.
In early 2016, Burcher resigned there for health reasons after a serious fall. Since then he lived again in Switzerland as well as in the Holy Land. Until a regular successor is elected, Burcher will have a task similar to that of the now deceased Grab a good 20 years earlier: to pacify a quarreling diocese as much as possible.