A Swiss bishop has spoken positively about legal protections for same-gender couples, even though he opposed the nation’s recent marriage equality referendum, noting that his seeming contradiction hinged on the word “marriage.”
Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur made his comments during an SRF television program ahead of the referendum vote on September 26th referendum which passed with 64% of the vote. Kath.net reported that, asked whether a women also appearing on the show should be able to marry her partner, the bishop replied (via Google Translate):
“‘I don’t mind. I (am) in favor of eliminating all discrimination and, at the same time, meaningful differentiation (taking place). For me, it’s all about naming whether different things are named with the same name.’
“The bishop de facto spoke out in favor of equal rights, but opposed the renaming of ‘what was originally called’ marriage ‘in the classic sense’ when asked by the moderator whether he would be for equal rights if it were renamed, Bonnemain said: ‘Yes, I have nothing against our people agreeing to these same rights. And yet I want the original not to be forgotten.’ . . .
“‘. . . .Bonnemain said: ‘I’m not saying I don’t want them not to be able to marry. But with all these different combinations that we call marriage: perhaps for what was originally understood as marriage, marriage – as ‘marriage’ -‘”
Bonnemain also addressed the question of blessing same-gender couples in church, and specifically whether priests in his diocese would be allowed to do so freely. Kath.net reported:
“When asked about the gay blessing, Bonnemain says that one really has to differentiate between the sacrament and the blessing. ‘With every sacrament, not just with marriage, requirements must be met in order for a sacrament to be effective. A blessing is something else. I have already stated that when it comes to blessing, one has to take into account the history of the individual person and the situation and act accordingly responsibly.’ When asked by the moderator whether Bonnemain, like his predecessor Bishop Vitus Huonder, would discipline a priest who blesses a lesbian couple in his community, Bonnemain said: ‘No, I act differently. I talk to people.'”
Finally, Bonnemain advocated for “specialized pastoral care” for LGBTQ Catholics, making clear that even while he rejects civil marriage equality, he is “totally against discrimination and for diversity.”
Switzerland’s episcopal conference had made its opposition to equal marriage rights known ahead of the referendum. Notably, the bishops’ rhetoric was quite muted. In a statement on the episcopal conference’s website, Bishop Valerio Lazzeri of Lugano wrote, in part (via Google Translate):
“The Catholic Church today is just one component of the complex society in which we live. She does not pretend to impose her vision of family and marriage on everyone. She is not opposed to the state granting, increasingly appropriately, same-sex partnerships timely legal protection.”
However, many more Catholics, including church leaders, endorsed civil marriage equality in the years leading up to this vote. Most recently, Franziska Driessen-Reding, the president of the Zurich Synodal Council, appeared at the city’s Pride celebrations in support of “Marriage for All.” Previously, Driessen-Reding said that her local church did not oppose marriage equality, and issued her personal support for same-gender blessings.
Elsewhere in Switzerland, in 2019, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Basel, the nation’s largest, confirmed that its leaders supported equal civil marriage rights. And since 2001, the Swiss Catholic Women’s Federation has reiterated its support for marriage equality.
Some Catholic bishops with mixed LGBTQ records have pinned themselves into a strange corner, a position exemplified by Bishop Bonnemain’s remarks. His argument for opposing marriage equality seems reduced to semantics and his point about differentiation is strained. Simultaneously, he admits the need to offer same-gender couples legal protections seemingly equivalent to marriage rights. This episcopal position is untenable, and it would be best if church leaders like Bonnemain focused on ending discrimination rather than arguing about the word “marriage.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 22, 2021