Vitus Huonder, the Catholic bishop of Chur, has apologised if anyone felt hurt when he quoted a Bible verse calling for homosexuals to be put to death, but he says he stands by his literal reading of the Bible.
In his 50-minute address on marriage at a forum in Germany on August 2, Huonder quoted two verses from the book of Leviticus, including Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
In response to applause, he continued: “Both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church’s position on homosexuality”.
This triggered a public outcry and a criminal complaint from a private individual in St Gallen and Pink Cross, the umbrella association for Swiss gay groups, which accused 73-year-old Huonder of “inciting people to crime or violence”.
In an interview with Swiss newspaper Blick on Thursday, Huonder wouldn’t comment on the ongoing legal process but said he felt “misunderstood”.
“People didn’t interpret my lecture but what was put in front of them by the media. Whoever reads the whole address cannot say I called for the death penalty,” he told Blick.
So it’s the media’s fault? Blick asked. “I’m just saying that the media follow their own agenda,” he replied.
Preacher of hate?
Pressed on the issue – namely that saying “both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church’s position on homosexuality” left little room for misinterpretation – Huonder said the comment was an insider’s reference to the upcoming bishops’ synod in Rome, where a new pastoral approach to issues such as homosexuality would be discussed.
“Both passages are in the Bible – they are the word of God and must be taken seriously – but they must be interpreted and placed in a modern context,” he said.
Something which he had failed to do, countered Blick, who asked Huonder whether he was a “preacher of hate”.
“I am a bishop who stands 100% behind the teachings of the church. Sometimes I make mistakes and then I admit them. Fundamental for me are the commandments to love thy god and love thy neighbour, otherwise I wouldn’t have become a priest,” he said.
“But if the catechism of the Catholic Church says homosexual people should be chaste, then, for me as a bishop, that is binding.”
On Wednesday evening, Huonder wrote a letter to the 800 staff in the bishopric of Chur in which he apologised to “homosexually minded people”. He assured them that the church didn’t want to ostracise anyone.
For its part, Pink Cross on Thursday said Huonder’s interview didn’t change anything regarding the organisation’s criminal complaint, saying his latest comments were simply a “lie to cover himself” in an attempt to reduce public pressure.
swissinfo.ch and agencies