This is a guest post by Eva du Monteil, a freelance writer.
After stirring a major controversy in Switzerland (and drawing upon himself the infernal wrath of the European LGBT community), a homophobic Swiss bishop has decided that gays may not risk eternal damnation after all.
It took more than two weeks for Vitus Huonder, the Bishop of Chur (Switzerland), to come to his senses and issue a not-so-heartfelt apology.
But don’t give the man too much credit just yet. His mea culpa feels as moving as reading the back of a cereal box.
Late last month at a conference on marriage and family held in Germany, Huonder quoted Leviticus 18:12 and 20:13 to warn gay men who engage in sexual activity that they may “be punished by death” and that “the blood will fall upon them” if they don’t mend their ways.
Back home, the Swiss gay community wasn’t so pleased with Huonder’s words of wisdom. Pink Cross, a gay rights organization representing 47 other like-minded groups and 8,000 members, decided to file a lawsuit against His (Dis)Grace.
More concerned with repercussions against homosexuals now than the fate of their souls later, the group expressed fears that Hounder’s comments were “inciting people to crime or violence,” an act punishable by up to 3 years in prison in Switzerland. It’s not entirely far-fetched; the same biblical passages were recently quoted to justify stabbings at a pride parade two weeks prior to Hounder’s comments.
Two more private suits were filed separately, but Swiss National Councilor Mathias Reynard believes that this will be no easy feat, as homophobic and hate speech formulated in general terms can not be pursued as such in Switzerland today:
“I’m not sure that the words of Archbishop Huonder can be sentenced for complaints. This is the opposition between the principle of freedom of expression, and that of tolerance. In Switzerland, we let people go quite far in their freedom of expression.”
Huonder, in response to all this, issued an apology the other day. It was a disappointing three-page letter (roughly translated below) addressed not to the gay community he hurt, but to priests, deacons, and the 800 employees of his diocese:
I am convinced that in the context of theological reflection no passage of the Scriptures may be rejected on the sole basis that they create problems in today’s context.
The Church’s action is always help for life and does not bring death. This church involvement stems compassion and tact.
We as Christians are encouraged to interpret the Old Testament from the perspective of fulfillment in Christ. And for me, as a bishop, there is of course the fundamental distinction between the theological evaluation of human action and the pastoral activity of the Church. This is a distinction which I hold fast…
I am sorry if my 50-minute lecture in Fulda on 2 August 2015, which dealt with the biblical basis for marriage and family, was understood as diminishing homosexual people.
This was not my intention. During the lecture I quoted several uncomfortable passages from the Old Testament to do with marriage, sexuality and family. I want to clarify that I… would in no way wish to diminish homosexual people.
After some more complicated justification, he eventually acknowledged having made a “mistake” considering that this speech was only intended for the purpose of “reflection and academic” discussion. What a shame it came into the open, indeed. Would he have changed his official position if it hadn’t? Probably not.
He did, however, win a gold medal for most unconvincing excuse when he blamed his speech on unfortunate timing.
According to Huonder, preparing his speech in the summer was not a good idea since he didn’t have any staffers around to proofread his work: “My colleagues would have drawn my attention to the danger” [if they were around]. Apparently, the only censoring to this man’s bigotry comes from his PR and communication team. So much for intelligence, tolerance, and empathy.
Whatever you think about Huonder’s late-coming apology, you should know it’s much better than the brief communiqué he posted on his diocese’s website the day before. Apparently, three paragraphs calling his diatribe an “unfortunate misunderstanding” and saying he had “in no way wanted to demean gay people” (while quoting more of Leviticus) was not the way to go about appeasing the LGBT community.
For the Swiss Conference of Bishops, the issue isn’t a top priority, either. In an unsurprisingly cowardly fashion, the group has been silent, arguing that they will weigh on the issue during their plenary assembly on August 31.
You’d expect a little more from the Church that claims that their “God is love.”
The LGBT community wasn’t impressed with the half-apologies either. On its website, Pink Cross stated:
A personal request for interview from Pink Cross is still unanswered. Meanwhile, bishop Huonder has never apologized directly to the gay and lesbian advocate groups. The Diocese of Coire communicates exclusively via media with Pink Cross.
Other interpretations of the Bible and attempts at explanation of Bishop Huonder to Pink Cross have not followed.
His choice of words may sound academic, but it is not harmless. The bishop makes it repeatedly clear that he views the excerpts from the Bible that he cites as being authentic and so true, and makes it repeatedly clear that believers must act accordingly.
How does the Catholic church expect to stay relevant in an ever-changing world if it fails to distance itself with barbaric scripture that encourages intolerance, violence, and crime? How is such a rigid organization even capable of comprehending the complexities of life today as it relates to youth, sexuality, or science? How can an organization plagued with moral corruption and sexual abuse be in a position to take a stance on what defines a “healthy” sexuality at all anyway?
Huonder isn’t an exception to the long list of mistakes by Catholic Church leaders.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)