Swiss diocese wants to halve number of priests

The Swiss Dominican Charles Morerod, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Friborg (LGF) since 2011 after having been secretary general of the International Theological Commission and rector of the Pontifical University of Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin (Angelicum) in Rome has the reputation to speak freely and boldly. This doctor of theology and philosophy has often considered that the Church must reform in depth.

Asked recently by the Swiss Catholic press agency, he did not hesitate to take the opposite view of most of his colleagues by explaining that he wants ” halve the number of priests »In his diocese.

→ MAINTENANCE. Bishop Charles Morerod: “The Church is reforming itself under the influence of apparently opposing forces”

Most of the time, we talk about a shortage of priests, while there is rather a plethora of priests, he explains in this interview. In Friborg alone, a small town of 38,000 inhabitants, there are 40 Catholic Masses per Sunday. It far exceeds demand. “

From 345 to 170 priests

Bishop Morerod therefore wants to go from 345 priests present today in his diocese to around 170 priests, the only way in his eyes to “ bring supply and demand to the same level “. The bishop of LGF is convinced that fewer priests mean more faithful per celebration. ” This is a schematic estimate, which takes into account the aging of both priests and practicing Catholics. Moreover, the regrouping is already a reality for the younger practitioners who gather in some churches of the city centers.. “

Considering the current situation as ” often depressing, especially in the countryside », He notes with regret that the priest is confronted with« a dozen faithful who follow the service in silence from the most distant ranks “.

And the health crisis strengthened Bishop Morerod’s determination. ” Elderly believers won’t return to churches quickly for fear of virus », He believes. Suddenly, he is convinced of it: fewer priests means more faithful per service.

But his project serves another purpose, that of reducing the number of foreign priests. ” I am not xenophobic, he warns. A church in which the majority of the faithful have an immigrant background needs a multicultural clergy. However, with 50% of foreign priests in the diocese, a limit has been reached. Cultural differences accumulate. “

A foreign egalitarian culture

According to the Swiss bishop, some African or Polish priests, for example, are not used to a clergyman being contradicted in this country. ” Our egalitarian culture of conversation is foreign to them. And this sometimes leads to tension », He continues, evoking an incident, which occurred a few years ago in a parish in the canton of Geneva, when he wanted a woman to be appointed to a pastoral position – women being under-represented in this parish. ” But the priest, who came from an African country, said women should not be trusted for this function. “

Finally, “ sometimes there are language barriers », Adds Mgr Morerod, citing the example of Vietnamese priests whose sermon is not understood by all the faithful. In addition, he recalls, “ the Vatican regularly warns us of a kind of “brain drain” »Which impoverishes the African or Asian dioceses of their human resources.

Decrease the number of masses

For all these reasons, the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, Friborg therefore wants to stop recruiting priests abroad – while recognizing that it will be necessary to continue to accept priests wishing to come to Switzerland – and reduce the number of priests. masses offered every week. Which supposes ” a certain mobility of the faithful. It is worth it, the celebrations will only be more alive. “

As for the question of knowing what will happen to churches which are used only sporadically, Bishop Morerod does not exclude the possibility of selling them. ” As long as these places of worship remain financially viable, no closure is planned., he told But we are observing what is happening for the Reformed Church – in Neuchâtel, it had to sell its first buildings. We may one day have to follow this development. “

All these decisions, assures Mgr Morerod, were taken in consultation with his presbyteral council, in a ” continuation of discussions resulting from a broad consultation in 2013 “. They are not motivated primarily by financial questions but ” by a statement »: That of the decrease in the number of Catholics. Between 1910 and 2018, their proportion in the Swiss resident population rose from 43 to 35%.


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