It took almost two years. Now a successor has been found for the conservative Bishop of Chur Vitus Huonder. This could have gone much easier for the divided diocese.
Joseph Maria Bonnemain, a doctor, hospital chaplain and officiant of the diocese of Chur, will be the new bishop of the quarreling Swiss diocese. Bonnemain has worked for the diocese for 40 years. He made his career under the conservative bishop Wolfgang Haas (1988/90-1997). Later Bonnemain distanced himself from his arch-conservative course. The Opus Dei member is considered moderate and a good bridge builder.
Studied medicine and theology
Bonnemain's French name is explained by his father, who is from the Jura Mountains. His mother was Catalan. Joseph Maria Bonnemain was ordained on 26. Born in Barcelona on July 1948 and studied medicine in Zurich. In 1975, he went to Rome to study theology; in 1978, Cardinal Konig of Vienna ordained him a priest of the Opus Dei prelature. In 1980, Bonnemain earned a doctorate in canon law and returned to Switzerland.
Bonnemain speaks five languages: Catalan, Spanish, French, German and Italian. As a physician and theologian, Bonnemain reinforced the delegation of the Holy See in Geneva to the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1983 to 1991. Currently Bonnemain is Offizial, i.e. the highest church judge in the diocese of Chur. At the same time, he is responsible for relations with the state-church bodies.
Distancing under Bishop Haas
Under the then Bishop Haas, Bonnemain became Offizial in the summer of 1990. But over time, he distanced himself from the diocese's conservative course. Bonnemain, who has commuted between Zurich and Chur for almost four decades, was committed to enhancing Zurich in the urban-rural structure of the diocese. He wanted to turn Zurich's Liebfrauenkirche into a concathedral – which did not go down well in Graubunden.
Bonnemain knows the problems of the diocese very well. As secretary of the Swiss Bishops' Conference's "Expert Panel on Sexual Assault in the Church Environment," he advocates a zero-tolerance policy on abuse and misuse of power. He has also been hospital chaplain at the Limmattal Hospital in Schlieren for 40 years.
Name was already on list of three
Bonnemain's name was already on the list of three that Pope Francis had presented to the Chur Cathedral Chapter for election in November. But at the time, the canons decided by a narrow majority to scrap the election and let Rome decide for itself. Bonnemain as a member of the voting body abstained.
The conservative wing did not consider any of the pope's three candidates eligible – an affront. Thus, the divided cathedral chapter stands as a symbol of the divided diocese.
Pope accepts resignation of Elegantis
Auxiliary Bishop Marian Eleganti makes way for a new beginning. The 65-year-old, auxiliary bishop of Chur since 2009, had already submitted his resignation from office to the pope in 2019; now Francis accepted it on Monday. Eleganti is popular in conservative circles.
Nevertheless, he has repeatedly caused annoyance in recent years, for example when he criticized the Corona protection measures in a video in March 2020 and contradicted his confreres in the Bishops' Conference. As a result, the interim head of Chur, Bishop Peter Burcher, muzzled him.
Only an interim solution?
Now, then, another "transitional bishop". In just under two and a half years, with the completion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the company, the search for a bridge builder will begin anew. At the age of 60, Bonnemain must offer his resignation to the pope in accordance with canon law. And even if the term of office is extended for some time: In a few years, the search for a bridge builder will begin anew.
This Monday evening at 18.00 Bishop Burcher celebrates a pontifical mass with the designated new bishop Bonnemain in the cathedral of Chur. When Bonnemain will be consecrated bishop is still unknown. The date Easter Monday (5. April).