A top lay official in Switzerland has endorsed blessings for same-gender couples and said that while the local Catholic Church there has not issued an official statement on civil marriage equality, it does not oppose such legislation.
Franziska Driessen-Reding made her comments on the Catholic Church in the Canton of Zurich’s official website. Driessen-Reding is the president of the cantonal church’s Synodal Council, an executive branch within the Swiss church’s unique governance structure (further explanation below). As the nation’s legislature considers legalizing marriage equality, she stated:
“‘An official statement of the Catholic Church in the Canton of Zurich on ‘marriage for all’ does not yet exist. As with the Reformed sister church, the range of opinions is very wide. However there is one fundamental that applies to all opinions: No one may be discriminated against because of their gender or their sexual orientation. Therefore, the bishops do not fundamentally reject the civil marriage for all. Another question is whether pastors should bless homosexual couples. According to the doctrine of the Church, the religious sacrament of marriage is reserved for a union of man and woman, because it also includes the offspring.
“Personally, I am clearly convinced that the Catholic Church must find a liturgical form that can be used to give homosexual couples the blessing of God. In practice, so many do so today, but in secret. Any real love between two people is valuable, whether homosexual or heterosexual. To acknowledge and appreciate this should also be a matter of course in the life of the church.”
Driessen-Reding’s support for equal marriage rights and blessings for same-gender couples have particular significance given her position in the Swiss church. In that nation, elected bodies largely composed of lay people are responsible for the corporations which own and operate many of the institutional church’s properties and ministries. Though technically under the Diocese of Chur’s bishop, the Synodal Council’s president has real, functional power as head of the Zurich church’s executive body. For more information on this unique system, click here and here.
Driessen-Reding’s stance contrasts with comments made by the Chur diocese’s former bishop and a current auxiliary bishop. In 2015, then-Bishop Vitus Huonder, the Chur ordinary who retired earlier this year, dismissed a priest for blessing the union of a lesbian couple. Huonder reversed that decision only after local parishioners fiercely protested the dismissal and on the condition the priest would never again offer such a blessing. Last year, a Chur auxiliary bishop, Marian Eleganti, claimed that clergy sexual abuse was linked to homosexuality, a position quickly refuted by some Swiss dioceses.
Additionally, the Swiss Catholic Women’s Federation has reiterated its support for marriage equality as legislators consider the issue, a position the women’s group has held since 2001.
Beyond Driessen-Reding’s support for LGBTQ equality, there is a wider lesson for church reform that comes from her statement: the ability to speak freely is in large part due to lay people being truly co-responsible for the church, and having power to make decisions. Because of its connection to local culture and history, the Swiss cantonal governance system could not be simply copied elsewhere. It could, however, help Catholics imagine ways of shifting power from the hierarchy to the laity so that people can speak more freely and live more openly. While building inclusion in parishes and schools is necessary work, this case from Switzerland is a reminder that attending to the general minutiae of church operations is essential, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 21, 2019
Aaurgauer Zeitung, “Oberste Zürcher Katholikin will homosexuelle Paare segnen“