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Bishop suspends rebel priest

Franz Sabo says he won't obey orders to leave his parish

(Keystone)

The Catholic bishop of Basel has suspended an outspoken parish priest in a continuing row over his dissident views.

The decision has prompted widespread criticism from churchgoers and has been rejected by the priest concerned.

The diocese of Basel, the largest Swiss bishopric, announced on Friday that Franz Sabo would be suspended from duties for six months.

A statement said attempts over the past few months to defuse tensions and end a stand-off had failed.

The bishop has appointed two other priests as temporary replacements for Sabo in the parish of Röschenz near Basel. He has pledged to review the situation next year.

It is the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Sabo and Bishop Kurt Koch over the role of the Catholic Church. The priest notably accused church leaders of abuse of power.

Opposition

Sabo, who has been Röschenz's priest since 1998, said he would ignore the suspension order and continue to carry out his duties.

"As long as the parish wants me here I will carry on as priest," he said.

Catholic churchgoers in Röschenz have accused the bishop of interfering in the internal affairs of the parish and they have reiterated their support for their priest.

Holger Wahl, president of the Röschenz Catholic community, said the bishop had not kept a promise to meet churchgoers for talks.

Regional church authorities expressed disappointment at Bishop Koch's decision, saying the community had not been given a fair hearing.

In April parishioners voted to retain Sabo despite an announcement by the bishop revoking his authority to teach Catholic doctrine, also known as canonical mission.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The case of Franz Sabo is apparently the first of its kind in Switzerland's Catholic Church.
The legal status is unclear as church law only covers the hiring and not the firing of a priest.
If the canonical mission is taken away a priest is no longer allowed to minister to his parish.

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