Vitus Huonder © Georges Scherrer (CBA)
Easter Sunday marks the end of Vitus Huonder's two-year extended term in Chur. That a new bishop will be presented on Easter Monday is considered unlikely. Observers ame transitional solution.
On Easter Sunday, Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur celebrates his 77th birthday. Birthday. Two years ago, he duly submitted his resignation to the pope. The Swiss diocese then said Francis had accepted Huonder's resignation – but not with immediate effect. His demission, he said, will not take place until 21. April 2019, on the day of his 77th birthday. Birthday, legally binding.
At present, it is not known how far the procedure for electing a new bishop has progressed. Giuseppe Gracia, representative for media and communication in the diocese of Chur, leaves questions about the current situation in the diocese leadership and about the succession unanswered with "please understand". At least he revealed that a "brief communique" would be distributed on Easter Monday.
Bishop Huonder polarizes
Bishop Huonder, who is still in office, is controversial in Chur. Like his predecessor, Bishop Wolfgang Haas (1988/90-1997), he has polarized the diocese, which includes rural cantons as well as the financial metropolis of Zurich. With verbal attacks on sexuality, church interception or the protection of life, Huonder has repeatedly acted as a representative of the conservative wing of the church throughout the country.
Critics moved to the seat of the bishops' conference president in 2014 to demonstrate for Huonder's removal. The Swiss gay umbrella organization unsuccessfully filed criminal charges against the clergyman in 2015 for allegedly publicly inciting violence against homosexuals.
An initiative called "Enough is enough!", which had petitioned for an administrator to succeed him, expressed "great disappointment" in 2017 over the term extension.
Central task of the new bishop will be to smooth the waters in Chur again. That his name will be announced on Monday is possible, but considered rather unlikely.
Because then the 24-member cathedral chapter would have already elected the new man and the pope would have confirmed the election by then. All that is known is that the Apostolic Nuncio, Thomas Gullickson, has since the beginning of the year been diligently pushing the envisaged procedure to sift through possible candidates. It is unclear whether he has already sent his proposals to Rome.
Nor is a further extension of Huonder's term of office expected. Observers consider a transitional solution more likely.
Temporary solution is likely
There are three possible scenarios for this, as Joseph Bonnemain, Offizial in the diocese of Chur, recently explained in the Infoblatt of the Catholic Church in the canton of Zurich: the Pope instructs Bishop Huonder, emeritus, to continue temporarily as administrator.
Huonder's predecessor, Bishop Amedee Grab, also worked after his 77th birthday. Birthday still five months as Apostolic Administrator. In this function, according to Bonnemain, Huonder would "hold all powers as before".
Francis could also assign another priest or bishop as administrator "due to special existing circumstances and before a regular diocesan bishop is later elected and appointed," Bonnemain explains. This too would have all the powers of an episcopal office holder. The actual bishop would then be elected only when the pope "deems the situation suitable".
Finally, the scenario is also possible that no instruction comes from Rome for the time until a new bishop takes office. In that case, according to Bonnemain, the college of consultors – consisting of six resident and six non-resident canons – will elect a diocesan administrator within eight days. The latter will then take over the ordinary business of running the diocese.
Such a diocesan administrator, however, has limited powers, he may "not make any change," the relevant guidelines say. In the time until the election of a diocesan administrator, Marian Eleganti would be responsible as auxiliary bishop of the diocese for the management business.