Bishop who warned of schism over women priests resigns

A Swiss bishop who recently warned of a potential schism caused by different opinions about ordaining women in the Catholic church has resigned unexpectedly.

Denis Theurillat, who was the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Basel cited “the increasing burdens of his office” as his reason for resigning five years before the customary retirement age for bishops.

“I realized [after having an accident last year] that the time had come to step down and think about a new chapter in my life,” he said.

Pope Francis has accepted Theurillat’s resignation.

Although his concerns about a possible schism were not mentioned, it is just months since Theurillat told the Swiss Catholic Church’s website that he would like to participate in a council on women priests.

His wish for such a council goes against Pope St John Paul IIs 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio sacerdotalis” in which he declared:

“… the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

His wish for the Church to discuss the matter of women priests is also out of sync with the current pope’s views.

In 2016 Francis told journalists during an in-flight press conference: “the final word [about ordaining women] is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.”

However, in calling for the council on women priests, Theurillat’s concern focused more on unity in the Church and a potential schism than on a view either way.

What he did say, was: “The facts are on the table, the time is ripe. All the bishops of the world should come together and decide: yes or no.”

The question should not be decided by Pope Francis alone, “otherwise we will experience a schism,” he said.

The interview was published as Theurillat celebrated his 70th birthday.

The Swiss bishops’ conference says it is surprised to hear of Theurillat’s resignation.

During his 20 years of service, Theurillat showed himself to be a “man of dialogue,” the Conference reported.

His ministry included traveling to World Youth Day four times with a Swiss youth delegation. He also organised an encounter between 20,000 young people and John Paul II during the Polish pope’s visit to Switzerland in 2004.



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