At what point can we officially write off the entire German-speaking Church?
The president of the Swiss Bishops Conference spoke for the first time in years with the wives of Catholic priests. The meeting took place on Monday in Fribourg and proceeded in a “pleasant, amiable atmosphere,” a spokeswoman for the Association of Women Affected by Celibacy [Ahem!] (aka “Zöfra”) told the press agency Kipa. Simon Spengler, spokesman for the Swiss Bishops Conference, told us that the meeting was brought about by Zöfra and proceeded positively.
“They sought out and asked the bishops to receive them in a deep discussion, which has in fact now taken place. In years past there were encounters at times, but more recently, for various reasons, contact had been broken off. There were grievances on both sides, and now, thanks to the initiative of Zöfra, the dialogue is underway again.”
The encounter was not arranged for the entire Swiss Bishops Conference, but with its executive committee. Among those present on the bishops’ side were the chair Markus Büchel, vice-chair Charles Morerod, as well as the auxiliary bishop of Basel, Denis Theurillat. Büchel invited the Zöfra delegation so that they could “submit their concerns directly to the bishops,” Spengler stated.
“That resonated very positively with Zöfra and it led to a very constructive discussion between the Zöfra representatives and the bishops’ executive committee.”
This was the first discussion with Zöfra since 1997. The outcome of this week’s encounter will be discussed at the next plenary session of the Bishops Conference, added Spengler. The Association of the Wives of Catholic Priests [Ahem!] brought various requests before the bishops’ conference.
“For example, they wanted a permanent correspondent [aka an “Inside Man”] at the bishops’ conference, instead of always having to speak with individual bishops. The conference must deliberate whether or not it can satisfy this wish. In any case it was decided that contact would be maintained. The most important thing is that a clear signal was sent to the Zöfra representatives that the bishops take their pleas seriously.”
In addition Zöfra asked that bishops would do away with some restrictions involved in laicizing priests living in a relationship with a woman, leaving more pastoral care to laicized priests. One thing not discussed at the meeting, Spengler said, was a general discussion of doing away with priestly celibacy.
“That wasn’t the case. It had to do with concrete cases, such as how to help a priest who lives in a situation out of conformity with the Church, that is, one who in fact lives with a woman and is torn in two directions. That holds for the partner as well as for the community, so that all interests are recognized and the man can stand without fear before the bishops in light of his situation.”
Gabriella Loser Friedli, spokeswoman for Zöfra, said that, as far she knows, such a meeting was “a first for the world.” As a rule, bishops do not respond to letters from organizations with the same focus.
(rv/kipa 17.07.2014 mg)