null / Nikolai Lehmann (@lehmannnikolai)|Unsplash

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 11:53 am (CNA).

A Swiss bishop called for the end of mandatory priestly celibacy and for the ordination of women in an interview published Sunday, just days ahead of his participation at the Synod on Synodality in Rome next week. 

“It’s time to abolish mandatory celibacy,” Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag on Sept. 24.

The bishop elaborated: “Celibacy means that I am available to God. But I believe that this sign is no longer understood by society today. Many think: What is wrong with this person, does he have a problem? When a sign is no longer understood, it must be questioned.”

“I have no problem at all imagining married priests,” the 55-year-old bishop added. 

Gmür didn’t stop at questioning celibacy; he also waded into another contentious issue: the ordination of women. “The subordination of women in the Catholic Church is incomprehensible to me. Changes are needed there,” he declared.

“I am in favor of the ordination of women; it will also be a topic at the synod that will soon take place in Rome,” Gmür stated.

While celibacy has been debated and subject to speculation, Pope Francis has repeatedly and unequivocally said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

In his interview published Sunday, Gmür also spoke about a need for a more equitable distribution of power within the Church. 

“We need to distribute power better,” he said, adding that the Swiss Bishops’ Conference is setting up an ecclesiastical criminal and disciplinary tribunal. This tribunal would act independently of the bishops and be staffed with external experts. 

“I will lobby in Rome for the Church to decentralize,” Gmür added.

The Swiss prelate’s provocative statements come against a backdrop of an ongoing clerical abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in the country. 

Over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse have been reported, and the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, under Gmür’s leadership since Jan. 1, 2019, has faced criticism for its handling of these cases. 

Elected as the president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference on Sept. 3, 2018, Gmür acknowledged his own shortcomings. “Yes, I have made mistakes,” he admitted, adding that “every conversation with victims has changed me.”

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference also disclosed an ongoing Vatican-led investigation into handling abuse allegations, expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Allegations against several members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference were forwarded to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome, which has appointed Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of the Swiss Diocese of Chur to lead the inquiry.

According to official figures, the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland had about 3.1 million believers in 2020, corresponding to a population share of 33.8%. The figure for 2010 was 38.6% of the population.

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