Big surprise

Big surprise

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur © KNA

Pope Francis has extended the term of Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur by two years. This was announced by the diocese of Chur. Francis, he said, had considered the letter of resignation sent to him by the bishop on 21. April 2017 transmitted.

"After considering all the circumstances, the Pope has decided to extend the term of office of the bishop for two years, until Easter 2019," it says on the website of the diocese of Chur on Thursday. Thus, only after the expiration of these two years, the replacement of the Swiss bishop's seat will take place.

Polarizing bishop

The conservative Huonder is controversial in Chur. Like his predecessor Bishop Wolfgang Haas (1988/90-1997), he has polarized the diocese, which includes not only the rural cantons but also the financial metropolis of Zurich. With verbal attacks on sexuality, church interception or the protection of life, the bishop of Chur has repeatedly acted as a representative of the conservative wing of the church throughout the country.

Critics moved to the headquarters of the bishops' conference president in 2014 to demonstrate for Huonder's ouster. The Swiss gay umbrella organization unsuccessfully filed criminal charges against the bishop in 2015 for allegedly publicly inciting violence against homosexuals.

Reactions to pope's decision

The Parish Initiative, an association of critical lay people, said it was "shocked" to note the papal decision. The alliance "Enough is enough!" which has petitioned for an administrator to succeed Huonder, expressed "great disappointment that the pope is going down this path and not choosing the option of an administrator". He said this was a clear signal that there would be a proper election of bishops. "Pope Francis is obviously not aware of what is going on in the diocese of Chur," said Simone Curau-Aepli, president of the Swiss Catholic Women's Federation, on behalf of the Alliance.

In an interview with the "Luzerner Zeitung" (Thursday), the bishop defended his strict stance. The Catholic Church in Switzerland was infected by "deviations" from Church doctrine and discipline and by abuses in the liturgy. "Infections are usually associated with fever. But the fever also helps the organism to recover." The media portrayed him too negatively, the bishop said in the interview. They did not appreciate all aspects of his statements, but always immediately sought confrontation.

Pope surprises with decision

"The proof of confidence on the part of the Pope has moved me and filled me with great gratitude," Vitus Huonder wrote in a letter to the employees of his diocese, from which the Internet portal quoted on Thursday. With his decision, the pope is betting on continuity. He said this would allow him, Huonder, to "continue work that has not yet been completed".

Career of Huonder

Huonder was born on 21. Born April 1942 in Trun in the canton of Graubunden. After his ordination and doctorate in 1973, he worked at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Fribourg and at the Theological University of Chur. Twelve years followed in parish pastoral care. After his habilitation in liturgical science, Bishop Haas appointed him vicar general for Graubunden, Glarus and Liechtenstein in 1990 and made him a cathedral chaplain in the same year.

Haas' successor Bishop Amedee Grab confirmed Huonder as vicar general for Graubunden in 1998. In the run-up to the 2007 episcopal election, Huonder was then considered a successful candidate. Even then, the media described him as similarly conservative as predecessor Haas.

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