A number of Swiss priests are refusing to sign a diocesan code of conduct largely because it includes provisions intended to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
43 priests in the Diocese of Chur are refusing to sign the “Code of Conduct for Dealing with Power,” which aims to prevent spiritual and sexual abuse in the church and is binding for all church workers, including the bishop. Katholisch.de reported on the priests’ statement:
“The [Chur Circle of Priests]. . .justifies its rejection with examples that relate to church sexual morality and the Catholic understanding of marriage. The sentence, for example, was met with criticism: ‘I refrain from making blanket negative assessments of allegedly unbiblical behavior based on sexual orientation.’ . . .
“The critics also dislike the passage: ‘In pastoral talks, I don’t actively address topics related to sexuality. In any case, I refrain from offensive questions about intimate life and relationship status. This also applies to conversations that I have as a supervisor.’ With this requirement, pastors are no longer allowed to ask future spouses in the wedding ceremony whether they agree to a marriage as a sacramental communion of life and love between a man and a woman.
“The sentence ‘I refrain from any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity’ also contradicts the overall church order. Because it would no longer be possible to dismiss ‘persons who practice homosexuality’ from the seminary. The group of priests sees the requirement in the code of conduct, according to which one has to ‘support’ a coming out on sexual orientation, as ‘unreasonable’.”
The Circle of Priests has since asked the diocese’s leader, Bishop Joseph Bonnemain, to retract his signature on the code of conduct to help stabilize what the priests refer to as a “conflict of conscience” for church workers. For his part, Bonnemain has refused to do so, but did express regret that the priests’ concerns were voiced so publicly even “before an in-person meeting took place.” The chancery has said diocesan officials are now working for clarification and resolution.
Bonnemain’s inclusion of LGBTQ-positive provisions in the code of conduct follows 2021 comments he made in support of legal protections for same-gender couples as Swiss voters contemplated a marriage equality referendum. At the time, he said he was “totally against discrimination and for diversity.” He also seemed open to blessing LGBTQ couples, or at least allowing priests in his diocese to do so without sanction.
Anything that can be done to make LGBTQ people feel more welcome and cared for in the church, like the provisions in this code of conduct, is a positive step. We hope Bishop Bonnemain will hold out against the criticisms of the priests’ group, which are unwarranted, and stick to the path of non-discrimination.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 3, 2022