Pope Francis asks new bishop of divided Swiss diocese to serve for at least five years

Pope Francis asks new bishop of divided Swiss diocese to serve for at least five years

Bishop-elect Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland. Credit: Diocese of Chur.
Bishop-elect Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland. Credit: Diocese of Chur.

.- Pope Francis has asked the new bishop of a divided Swiss diocese to remain in the post for at least five years, serving beyond the customary retirement age of 75.  

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, conveyed the pope’s request in a letter dated Feb. 15, the day that the Vatican announced Msgr. Joseph Bonnemain’s appointment as bishop of Chur in eastern Switzerland.

Normally, the 72-year-old bishop-elect would be expected to offer his resignation to the pope when he reaches his 75th birthday on July 26, 2023. But he will remain in post until at least 2026 if his health permits.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the Diocese of Chur announced the pope’s request on Feb. 22.

In his letter, addressed to Bonnemain, Ouellet indicated that the pope knew that there were serious divisions within the diocese, which dates back to 451 and today covers seven of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, including the canton of Zürich. 

He wrote: “The Holy Father is aware of the complexity of the situation in the diocese. Your Excellency is called to promote, above all, the communion and unity of the local Church, and to work generously in the service of evangelization.” 

“Aware of the demanding dimensions of the mission entrusted to you, and considering your age, Pope Francis has decreed that, should your health permit, your mandate should last at least five years.”

Pope Francis stepped in last week to end the deadlock over the appointment of a new bishop in the diocese, which traditionally holds episcopal elections. 

The see became vacant when Bishop Vitus Huonder retired on May 20, 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.

The 22 members of the cathedral chapter were due to elect a successor on Nov. 23. The list of candidates was supposed to remain secret, but local media reported that the three people proposed for the vacant see were Bonnemain, Abbot Vigeli Monn von Disentis, and Abbot Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori.

CNA Deutsch said at the time that the cathedral chapter saw the list of three candidates as an “attempt at interference” by neighboring dioceses. It quoted an insider as saying that the three names indicated that “the voice of the Diocese of Chur, which has previously deviated from the social mainstream, is being silenced” -- a reference to the diocese’s reputation as a bastion of conservative Catholicism. 

Pope Pius XII established the current rules for the selection of bishops in the diocese in the 1948 decree “Etsi salva,” giving the cathedral chapter the privilege of electing a bishop from among three priests proposed by the Holy See. 

When the cathedral chapter is unable to choose a bishop, the pope is free to appoint the new bishop directly. Pope Francis did so, selecting Bonnemain, a member of Opus Dei who previously served as judicial vicar and canon of the cathedral chapter of Chur diocese.

Preaching at Mass in Chur Cathedral on Feb. 15, Bonnemain announced that he would not be adopting an episcopal coat of arms.

He said: “The cross is the sign of Christ’s loving devotion to the world. Therefore, do not expect me to design and use a bishop's coat of arms, which is usually the case. The sign of the cross of Christ is enough for me. And this, only this, I will use.”

Tags: Catholic News, Switzerland, Catholic Church

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