Catholic bishop defends giving Communion to Protestant representatives at installation Mass

Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland. | Diocese of Chur.

A Catholic bishop in Switzerland has defended giving Holy Communion to two Protestant church representatives and a Protestant politician at his installation Mass.

Responding to CNA’s request for comment, Bishop Joseph Bonnemain’s office offered a short statement March 22, pointing to Canon 844 §4 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

“The implementation of these norms with respect to individual concrete persons during a public celebration takes into account the existing circumstances and the personal attitude of the individual. The media, given privacy considerations, is not the place to comment on such a matter,” the statement said.

The episode was first publicized by the Swiss bishops’ media outlet,, which reported that “in the presence of [Vatican Cardinal Kurt Koch], Joseph Bonnemain gave Holy Communion to three senior Reformed [Swiss Protestant] personalities: the president of the Swiss Protestant Reformed Church, Rita Famos; the president of the Zurich church council, Michel Müller; and Zurich government councilor Mario Fehr.”

Bonnemain, a 72-year-old Barcelona-born member of Opus Dei, is well versed in canon law. He previously served as judicial vicar and canon of the cathedral chapter of the diocese.

Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that “canon 844 §4 concerns the licit administration of the sacraments of penance, the Most Holy Eucharist, and the anointing of the sick to baptized non-Catholics, other than the Orthodox and their equivalent”.

“Five conditions exist for this to be a licit act,” he said via email.

“The first is danger of death, or some grave necessity. The following four are all required in addition: the person seeking the sacrament must be unable to approach their own minister; the individual is to manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament requested; the person must request the sacrament on their own initiative; and the person must be properly disposed.”

Following international reports critical of the bishop’s actions, defended Bonnemain, arguing that a predecessor had done the same and referring to the famous case of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger giving Communion to Brother Roger Schutz of Taizé at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

As CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, has reported, the Diocese of Chur, which also comprises the town of Zurich, has a history of fierce internal battles. The new bishop announced that his priority was to heal divisions.

Pope Francis announced that he had chosen Bonnemain to lead the diocese in February, ending a deadlock over the appointment in the historic eastern Swiss diocese that traditionally holds episcopal elections.

Cardinal Koch, who presided at Bonnemain’s episcopal ordination on March 19, is president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

He told CNA that, contrary to the Swiss media report, he had been “not aware” of the act, given that he was not involved in the distribution of Holy Communion and was “deeply in prayer” at the time.

The Swiss cardinal, who ordained Bonnemain on the day, has recently expressed serious misgivings about a proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants in neighboring Germany.

Despite Koch’s objections and those of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Catholics and Protestants announced on March 16 that they would press ahead with intercommunion at an upcoming ecumenical event.

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