New Swiss bishop gives Holy Communion to non-Catholics
March 26, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The new bishop of Chur, Switzerland, gave Holy Communion to three non-Catholics during his ordination ceremony last Friday, in the presence of Cardinal Kurt Koch, who had just ordained him to the episcopate. The event took place with the implicit assent of the Pope, who handpicked Joseph Bonnemain to take the head of the diocese after the cathedral chapter of Chur, in a highly unusual show of resistance, had rejected three progressive candidates presented by Rome.
The three protestants who were given the Eucharist were Rita Famos, president of the Evangelical Reformed Swiss church, Michel Müller, president of the Zürich church council, and Mario Fehr, socialist councilor of the canton of Zürich.
Also present were Bishop Peter Bürcher, who administrated the diocese since the departure of Bonnemain’s conservative predecessor, Vitus Huonder, in 2019, and Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, who is also head of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference.
The reception of Holy Communion by three non-Catholics was confirmed by the communications officer of the diocese of Chur during a telephone conversation with LifeSite this Thursday. He stressed that Bishop Bonnemain did not innovate in doing so, but that Bishop Huonder had done the same on one occasion (in 2012). He underscored that conservative websites were calling Bishop Bonnemain’s act scandalous while they never denounced a similar act on the part of Bishop Huonder.
The communications officer of Chur later repeated this in an email to LifeSiteNews, saying that “the information was confirmed.”
It should be clear that if a bishop with a deserved reputation for doctrinal rectitude does distribute Communion to Protestants, this cannot be excused because he is a “conservative.”
According to an article published on March 23 by kath.ch, the official Catholic Media Center of the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland, Bishop Huonder joined a Mass at the “Together Days” for the dedication of Saint Mary’s Church in Zürich, and before the Consecration asked the priest Mario Pinggera, whether Reformed people were also present and whether they would come to Communion.” Pinggera says he told the bishop: “We have a very good ecumenical relationship. And I wish that this will still be the case after the consecration!” He added, speaking to the press, that before Communion Bishop Huonder told the assistance: “Whoever believes that Christ is truly present in this bread should come.” Mario Pinggera commented: “For that I later praised him in the sacristy: That’s good. Later he probably tried to put the whole thing into perspective. But that’s how it happened.”
LifeSite was not able to find confirmation of these allegations in internet archives.
The article also accused the “extreme right-wing press” of “hiding” the fact that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself gave Communion to Brother Roger Schutz, a protestant of the ecumenical community of Taizé, at Pope John Paul II’s Requiem Mass.
This did create a scandal at the time in traditional circles but according to French biographer Yves Chiron, Frère Roger had actually converted to Catholicism in 1972, a fact that was confirmed by the former bishop of Autun, Armand Le Bourgeois, who received his profession of Catholic faith, to his successor in the diocese, Raymond Séguy. The reason this was not publicized was that Schutz did not want to “break ecumenical communion” around Taizé. Chiron also quoted a letter sent to him by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity saying that Schutz’ “communion of faith with the Catholic Church” had an “objective and public character.”
But it was not generally known, and under the circumstances, his admission to Communion, even by someone like Cardinal Ratzinger, led to confusion and dismay among many Catholics.
A response about the Chur incident from Bishop Bonnemain, who had received questions from a German-speaking media outlet, was also forwarded to LifeSiteNews. Here is his statement (translation by LifeSite):
The general norms and criteria concerning the reception of Communion on the part of non-Catholics are clearly set forth both in the Directory on Ecumenism and in CIC c. 844. The implementation of these norms towards individual concrete persons during a public celebration takes into account the existing circumstances and the personal attitude of the individual. The media, due to the protection of privacy, is not the place to comment on such matters.
We beg to differ with His Excellency on the question of commenting on “such matters,” when Holy Communion has been given publicly to members and dignitaries of Reformed communites in circumstances that can be questioned and in such a way that any Internet user can watch the full stream of the ordination ceremony and witness the event. Receiving the Holy Eucharist certainly has a strong private dimension but it is also an eminently public event, not only because reception of Communion is visible to all (and in this case, on video publicly available to all online), but also because Communion during a Catholic Mass implies communion with the Catholic Church.
It is because Communion is public that “public sinners” — that is, people who choose to live consistently and openly in opposition to the moral or doctrinal teachings of the Church — should not receive Communion publicly as long as it has not been made publicly clear that they have rejected their heretical beliefs or erroneous way of life, because of the scandal it would cause.
We take the point that the “existing circumstances and the personal attitude of the individual” are not for the bishop to comment on in the media; on the other hand, there was a public act of welcoming what is now called “intercommunion” with people who are not only members of protestant denominations, but even their leaders.
The Code of Canon Law (can. 844) states: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone,” and adds a series of exceptions. These regard the possibility for Catholics to receive Communion in Eastern and other churches that, without being united to Rome, have sacraments that are valid, and for Catholic ministers to give the same sacraments to members of those churches under certain conditions.
Section 4 of can. 844 is the one that was apparently invoked by Bishop Bonnemain: “If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
This “open door,” pushed ajar for pastoral reasons to bring help to people who are in a life-and-death situation, is certainly — and regrettably — worded in such a way as to allow abuse, but that does not make the abuse good.
Are friendship and the fostering of good relations sufficient “grave necessity” to allow Protestants who have a very different belief in the Eucharist than Catholics? Without going into details regarding the three “Reformed” Christians who received Holy Communion from the hands of newly ordained Bishop Bonnemain, it would have been helpful if he had at least made clear that reception of the Eucharist requires belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord under the species of bread and wine.
A later document than the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 was also invoked by Bishop Bonnemain: the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism. Its number 129 reads:
A sacrament is an act of Christ and of the Church through the Spirit. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unity in faith, worship and community life. As well as being signs, sacraments — most specially the Eucharist — are sources of the unity of the Christian community and of spiritual life, and are means for building them up. Thus Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression.
At the same time, the Catholic Church teaches that by baptism members of other Churches and ecclesial Communities are brought into a real, even if imperfect communion, with the Catholic Church and that “baptism, which constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn … is wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ.” The Eucharist is, for the baptized, a spiritual food which enables them to overcome sin and to live the very life of Christ, to be incorporated more profoundly in Him and share more intensely in the whole economy of the Mystery of Christ.
It is in the light of these two basic principles, which must always be taken into account together, that in general the Catholic Church permits access to its Eucharistic communion and to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick, only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. For the same reasons, it also recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.
Which conditions? Which exceptions? This remains unsaid in the document, creating the same kind of situation you get when a norm is correctly and plainly formulated and loopholes are immediately set up, as is the case with the reception of Communion in the hand (that has become the visible norm even though it still constitutes an exception by way of “indult”) or, more recently, the admittance to Communion of some divorced and civilly remarried couples following a “path of discernment.”
Vague norms don’t alter serious questions regarding the act
Clearly, Bishop Bonnemain did not act as a lone breaker of universally clear rules: The rules themselves lack clarity. But that does not alter the serious questions posed by his very public act.
The Diocese of Chur had no hesitation about confirming the information first posted by a conservative Catholic website, kath.net. Instead, the communications officer told LifeSite that “it is important to know that in Switzerland, about half of all marries couples are confessionally ‘mixed’ and that ecumenism is therefore an important priority.”
Does this indicate that a practice of giving Communion to the protestant spouse in a mixed-faith couple does indeed exist? When the question of “intercommunion” was raised with Pope Francis in 2015 during a visit to a Lutheran church in Rome, he refused to give a clear answer, prompting Cardinal Robert Sarah to intervene: “Intercommunion is not permitted between Catholics and non-Catholics. You must confess the Catholic Faith. A non-Catholic cannot receive Communion. That is very, very clear.”
In 2018, returning from his voyage to Geneva, Pope Francis gave one of his notorious in-flight interviews, saying that it was up to individual bishops, not bishops’ conferences, to determine whether a protestant married to a Catholic may receive Holy Communion. Pope Francis also quoted can. 844 to justify his answer, but without going so far as to say he was commending the practice.
In Chur, it raises no eyebrows.
When watching the video of the ordination ceremony of Bishop Bonnemain in Chur, it was difficult to verify whether the three protestants who had been named by kath.net actually received Communion — especially because everyone was wearing mask (even Bonnemain himself during his episcopal ordination). This was one of the reasons why LifeSite reached out to the diocese.
Rita Famos can be identified quite clearly in the full-length video of the Ordination Mass, at the 1:45:10 time stamp, but appears to walk in front of Bonnemain coming from the right, apparently without stopping to receive the Eucharist. She is soon followed by someone who looks quite similar to Michel Müller (time stamp 1:45:18). This person can be seen receiving the Eucharist, masked, and closing his left hand around it; he then moves away along the front row of pews without removing his mask and without lifting his hand towards his mouth, simply walking with his arms alongside his body.
The man’s offhand attitude and his actions become very clear when watching the video in slow motion, and would seem to indicate that he has no idea what the consecrated Host really is, or prefers to ignore what he knows. Perhaps he did consume the Host once returned to his place, but without respecting even the lax rules for receiving Communion in the hand. A scandal within the scandal …
To date, no public disavowal of Bishop Bonnemain’s gesture of giving Communion to protestants he surely knew, having spent the most recent decades of his life in the Diocese of Chur, has been forthcoming from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, who ordained him a bishop, told kath.net that he only learned of the distribution of Communion to Protestants after the ceremony. “I was not informed of it, nor did I see anything. I did not distribute Holy Communion during the ceremony of the bishop’s consecration, but took a seat in the sanctuary. These are moments I use for myself to pray; not to look to see who was coming to Communion. For this reason, I was surprised by the letters I received afterwards.”
Three prostitutes were specifically invited to attend the ceremony
The giving of Communion to protestant leaders was not the only remarkable twist given to the ceremony. Bonnemain invited three prostitutes from Zürich’s red-light district, the Langstrasse, two women and a young man, to attend among the one hundred guests who were allowed into the cathedral in a special accommodation of COVID rules. Migrants were also present.
He also gave an important role to women: It was a woman who gave the solemn reading of the papal bull naming the new bishop of the see of Chur. This is usually done by a cleric, a representative of the nunciature.
Bonnemain gave a short talk in three languages at the end of the celebration, insisting that he would work at “healing” the diocese — an obvious jab at Bishop Huonder’s time. Huonder was no favorite with the progressives in the Catholic Church in Switzerland.
Before leaving the Church in the final procession, Bonnemain knelt facing the congregation, his back turned to the tabernacle, and asked the faithful for their blessing.
Raphael Rauch of kath.ch drew a parallel between Bonnemain falling to his knees and the “taking a knee” popularized by the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a “powerful symbolic gesture.”
“The wounds inflicted by Bishops Wolfgang Haas, Vitus Huonder, and the Apostolic Administrator Peter Bürcher are still painful. The healing process can begin with the bishop and doctor Joseph Bonnemain,” wrote Rauch: “The kneeling of Chur stands for a new beginning in the diocese. This is symbolically confirmed by Martin Kopp’s invitation. A year ago, Peter Bürcher deposed the popular vicar general on flimsy grounds. At the episcopal ordination he was now a guest of honor — together with three refugees. This is a powerful form of reparation.”
Bonnemain himself, born in Barcelona, the son of a Catalan father and a Swiss mother, studied medicine in Switzerland and became a numerary of Opus Dei. He was ordained a priest as a member of the Opus Dei prelature. In 1981, Bonnemain was appointed diocesan judge, and one year later he was appointed vice judicial vicar. He became the head of the judicial vicariate of the diocese of Chur in 1989. He also worked in Zurich as a hospital chaplain. He says he changed his attitude towards believers when a dying man said he would rather make his last confession to a “fat, good-natured Capuchin” than to a lean, athletic man with two doctorates who “scared” him.
“I thought to myself: This is where the Holy Spirit speaks. I knew that I had to change. I understood that theology works differently in reality than it does in studies. There is no black or white, but many shades,” explained the new bishop in an interview.
The ordination ceremony took place in Switzerland’s oldest cathedral on the feast of Saint Joseph, marking a break in the rigors of Lent: flowers and music underscored the event, complete with a chamber orchestra and four soloists who played and sang Haydn, Pablo Casals, Louis Viernes, Gabriel Fauré, Duruflé… The musical taste of Bonnemain appears to be impeccable, but the mixture of sacred baroque and secular pieces — such as the Sicilienne of Fauré during the Offertory — lent a non-religious tone to the Mass.
Bonnemain, who has refused to have his own episcopal coat of arms, has adopted an age-old ivory episcopal baton which is said to date back to the 5th century and to have belonged to the first bishop of Chur.
In an interview with bazonline.ch, Bonnemain answered a question about the Church “excluding” people by not blessing same-sex couples: “The Church is in a process of development on these issues. We have already learned a lot, but we still have to learn more. For me, one thing is certain: Everyone is more than just their sexual predisposition.” He called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent note prohibiting the blessing of these couples “guard rails” that constitute “an aid,” adding: “We always have to consider the whole person, their development and life story. And then decide … As in other areas, I will try to differentiate between guidelines and the specific people who stand in front of me. Regardless of whether they are homosexual or not. Incidentally, I also have homosexual friends and don’t make a difference here.”
When asked: “So if open-minded pastors are blessing same-sex couples in your diocese, you don’t mind?”, Bonnemain replied: “I would talk to them and see if they made a good judgment to reach their decision. On the one hand there are general guard rails, on the other hand the specific living conditions of the couple. I trust the pastoral wisdom of our pastors.”
To date, the Congregation for Bishops led by Cardinal Marc Ouellet has not called Bonnemain (or any other bishop openly showing his support for ecclesial recognition of same-sex couples, for that matter) to order, or if he has, in a private manner that does a disservice to all Catholics who have a right to hear the truth from their pastors. Doctrine, morals and the infinite respect due to Our Lord in Holy Communion are being set aside in the name of openness and tolerance.