A strong reaction was manifested in the three German-speaking dioceses of Switzerland – Basel, Chur, and Saint-Gall – following the joint New Year’s letter published on January 5, 2023 under the signature of the bishops of these three dioceses, i.e. in order, Bishop Felix Gmür, Bishop Joseph Bonnemain, and Bishop Markus Büchel.
The New Year’s Letter
After a cordial introduction, the bishops express concern on the threshold of the new year. Although they do not doubt the faith and commitment of pastoral agents and thank them for it, they add that “common witness requires common forms and rules.”
The three bishops added that they “regularly receive requests and worried reactions, especially with regard to religious celebrations. The faithful have the right to religious services which respect the rules and forms of the Church.” However, in Switzerland, “the liturgical forms and rules apply in conformity to the dispositions of the bishops,” continues the letter.
The Shadow of the Monika Schmid Case
The letter then comes to its specific point: “You all know that only the priest can validly preside over the Eucharist, grant sacramental reconciliation, and give the anointing of the sick. This is precisely why he is ordained. This Roman Catholic rule of faith must also be observed without restriction in our dioceses,” the message warns.
Observers had no difficulty in making the connection with the Monika Schmid case, reported in our columns. On the occasion of her departure, a “pastoral assistant” and a theologian had with two priests “concelebrated” the Eucharist in a sacrilegious manner on August 28th.
On this occasion, the commentaries had suggested that the case was not isolated. And the fact that the bishops of the three German-speaking dioceses signed this letter – whereas the event took place in the diocese of Chur – says a lot about the practices that flourish in this part of Switzerland.
A Violent and Revealing Action
As soon as the episcopal letter was published, the reactions exploded. Pastoral workers characterized the New Year's greetings as a “scolding”. Among the strongest, the reaction of the main interested party was distinguished by its virulence. In an open letter, Monika Schmid tells the bishops that “your letter is a theological and human tragedy.”
The accusation becomes more violent: “What cowardly and unworthy game are you playing? Is Rome so close to your throat that you can only bow?… How is your letter an encouragement, when it once again justifies the injustice done to women?” she complains.
The president of the Zurich Synodal Council, for her part, describes the letter from the bishops as “grotesque.” She gags at the recommendation made to women to cultivate the liturgical form of silence. “I don't know who can take seriously this call to order from bishops for pastoral workers, wrapped up like a New Year's greeting,” she said.
The president of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Switzerland stands in solidarity with her Catholic sisters. “In any ecumenical brotherhood, I must contradict the bishops’ reprimand…. Patriarchal clericalism is nowhere more visible than in the Roman Catholic liturgy… because women are excluded from it.”
These reactions show how the situation in Catholicism is spreading like gangrene in German-speaking Switzerland, but this is no secret to anyone. Is it irreversibly compromised? Will the “sacrilegious” celebrations continue? The results will tell.