Switzerland: The saga of the rebel priest of the parish of Röschenz

Source: FSSPX News


On March 20, the Herbert Haag prize “for freedom in the Church” was awarded to four journalists, as well as the Catholic parish of Röschenz.

 The rebel theologian Hans Küng, president of the Foundation, Erwin Koller, vice-president and Rosmarie Zapfl, the Zurich national Christian Democrat councilor, awarded the Herbert Haag prizes. They were chosen for their ‘work on ecclesial matters in a spirit of critical discussion’: Matthias Drobinski, a journalist with the daily Süddeutche Zeitung in Munich, Dolores Bauer, an editor and author in Vienna, Michael Meier a journalist with the daily Tagesanzeiger in Zurich, and Hansjörg Schultz, a correspondent of the Swiss German radio station DRS 2 in Basel.

 The Catholic parish of Röschenz, in the canton of Basel-Land, opposed since March 2005 to the withdrawal of the canonical mission of Fr. Franz Sabo by Bishop Kurt Koch, by their decision to keep him permanently (see DICI n° 128), was praised by the Foundation. Hans Küng recalled that the diocese of Basel, under the episcopates of Anton Hänggi and Otto Wüst, was known “even as far away as Germany as an example of pastoral creativity.” And he pointed out, without wishing to make a judgment in the affair, that “even a bishop of the Catholic Church does not find himself above the law, but under it. The theologian explained that since Vatican II, the different charisma and services in the Church should no longer be carried out in a “relationship of domination,” but by a “friendly relationship based on mutual consultation and collaboration.”

 Rosmarie Zapfl, declared that the communities “of adult Christians, strong in their faith, conscious and committed, inspired with tolerance and love of neighbor” are the future of the Catholic Church. And she pointed out that parishes lived as “liberal democratic structures, which has long been the tradition in Switzerland.”

 Mgr. Kurt Koch the bishop of Basel wrote an open letter to Hans Küng, published on March 28 on the diocesan website. In it he states that Hans Küng is guilty of having repeated “the despicable calumny” of the Röschenz parish council, accusing him of mobbing (psychological harassment) with regard to the parish administrator Franz Sabo, in connection with an unfounded accusation of abuse presumably committed on a child,” without ever investigating the case. Is it really out of concern for right and justice that Hans Küng is acting,” Mgr. Koch wonders, “or rather another good opportunity to get even with the current bishop of Basel?”

 Mgr. Koch also condemned attacks on the Church by Rosmarie Zapfl during the Herbert Haag award ceremony. Her comments being of such a nature as to damage the new relationship constructed between the PDC (Christian Democrats) and the Swiss bishops.

 The bishop of Basel stated that Fr. Franz Sabo knows perfectly well that the parish of Röschenz is not publicly stating the truth about the report and the charge of mobbing, and is reporting the facts in an extremely distorted way.” Considering the gravity of the calumny, Mgr. Koch says he is no longer content to stand by and witness the damage being suffered by his diocese and no longer wants to hold to his duty of discretion, according to which the personal files must be “neither dealt with nor commented on” publicly. – Whereas Vatican II recommends an increased independence of the Church and the State, Hans Küng defends a “state control of the Church” which goes beyond the current ecclesiastical system and leaves little room for the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church, said Mgr. Koch.

 In reply, Erwin Koller, vice president of the Herbert Haag Foundation, said that in the absence of an administrative jurisdiction in the Church, it was necessary that the parishes, corporations of public law, “use the fundamental rights which are not guaranteed by the Catholic hierarchy.” This is because in this conflict, the parish of Röschenz has tried everything in order to respect its mandate with justice, with which the Foundation for freedom in the Church has distinguished it.

 Fr. Franz Sabo for his part, said that there was no way he would give his written agreement in order to release Mgr. Koch from his duty of discretion. In a work entitled Ich Wehre Mich (I defend myself), which was published by dpunto, on April 3, he gave the reasons for his disobedience to the Church authorities.

 The parish of Röschenz sent Mgr. Koch the following communiqué on March 29: “Show us please, that you are our shepherd and not our judge.” After having “many times offered you the olive branch,” “we come to Solothurn several times to see you, in order to discuss our concerns. And we would like to try to take this road one more time,” it went on. If canon law has agreed that the bishop is right, said the parishioners, all the laws on earth could never give him “the hearts of the men of whom you are the shepherd.” The parish wants to keep its priest. “Because after difficult times, Franz Sabo has led the village to a warm, joyful and Christian parish life, which has enchanted young and old alike.”

 The refusal of the submission of Fr. Sabo and his parishioners may lead the Catholic hierarchy to suspend the annual allowance paid by the cantonal Church. The parish of Röschenz also is considering setting up a foundation in order to ensure financial autonomy, said its president Bernhard Cueni, to SonntagsZeitung.