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Swiss Catholics hope for reforming pope

The late John Paul II with one of his faithful Swiss guards Keystone

As cardinals get down to the business of choosing a new pope, Swiss Catholics are hoping a more liberally minded pontiff will replace the late John Paul II.

The only Swiss cardinal in the 115-strong conclave, Henri Schwery, is known for his conservative views.

Swiss Catholics were often at odds with the late Pope, taking issue both with many of his policies, as well as the decision-making process in the Vatican.

Accustomed to their system of direct democracy, the Swiss have never taken kindly to the Vatican’s autocratic structure in which decisions emanate from Rome with little regard for the opinions of the flock.

During John Paul II’s tenure, relations between the Holy See and its Swiss flock deteriorated, thanks to Vatican’s habit of silencing critical voices, and in some cases removing outspoken priests from their parishes.

Elia Marty, a nun working in Bern, has a clear idea of what John Paul II’s successor should be like. “I would be very glad if the next pope was less dictatorial and was willing to share some of the power that has been concentrated in the Vatican,” Marty told swissinfo. “The views of the Church outside Rome need to be taken into account more.”

Marty leads the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Bern’s Victoria hospital, where the late Pope stayed during his last trip to Switzerland in June 2004.

“I don’t know the cardinals [who will be choosing the next pope],” she said. “But the new pope should not be too old, he should be healthy, and above all should be more open to new ideas. An 80-year-old is for me too old.”


Marty says the rules imposed by John Paul II should now be eased, and that it is imperative and urgent that the Church moves into the modern era and starts to react to developments in society.

Switzerland’s bishops are also hoping for big changes in the way the Church operates. They want the Vatican to listen to the voices in the parishes and they are seeking greater influence for the national bishops conferences.

The bishops are still smarting over the Vatican’s decision to appoint Wolfgang Haas as Bishop of Chur in canton Graubünden, against the wishes of the local congregation.

Some of the bishops have also named candidates they think should be pope. The bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Bernard Genoud, wants the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, installed in the papal apartments.

Bernard Trauffer of the Basel Diocese says it’s time the Church had a pope from Latin America, where the majority of the world’s Catholics live.


He has suggested Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, the 62-year-old Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Trauffer told Bern’s Bund newspaper that Maradiaga radiates charisma, adding that he would be “extraordinarily pleased” if a non-European became the next pope.

The only Swiss cardinal in the secretive conclave, Henri Schwery, refused to offer any clue about who he might like to see appointed pope, saying he hadn’t yet made up his mind.

He said he would prefer a candidate who was in touch with the spiritual side of the Church’s work. But he admitted that he would have trouble falling into line with any conclave members who might favour a candidate that had spent his life in the Vatican bureaucracy.

In newspaper interviews just before leaving for Rome, Schwery said he thought cardinals should keep an open mind until the conclave started discussions.


The Swiss theologian, Hans Küng, who was outlawed by the Vatican in 1979 after questioning papal infallibility, said the Church needed a pope with the “courage to initiate a new start…”.

Küng said the new pontiff had to address urgent questions such as decentralisation, the shortage of priests, celibacy, more say for congregations, and equal rights for women.

He believes an “extreme conservative” has little chance of being chosen by the conclave. “Many in the Vatican have had more than enough after 25 years…”

Many NGOs have certainly had enough of the Vatican’s refusal to countenance contraception. They want a pope who is prepared to condone the use of condoms as part of efforts to stop the spread of HIV/Aids.

“Act up Paris” was harsh in its judgement of the late Pope’s record, saying he was “complicit in the pandemic which is responsible for the deaths of millions of men, women and children”.


Swiss groups echoed those sentiments, if rather more respectfully. The Swiss Aids Federation described the Pope’s policy of advocating abstinence as “not helpful”.

Swiss Catholics in general seem to agree that it’s time for a pope willing to initiate reform. A recent survey showed that three-quarters were in favour of a pontiff who would change the Church’s position on issues such as celibacy and women priests. The Swiss also favoured a younger pope, with most saying he should not be older than 60.

Where they did think the next pope should follow in the footsteps of his predecessor was with regard to politics. Some 90 per cent of Swiss Catholics said they expected the new pontiff to become “involved in world politics”, and to condemn every form of war.

swissinfo, Nicole Aeby

The 115-strong conclave is made up of cardinals under the age of 80. There are 117 in the church, but two are ill.
It holds two votes every morning and afternoon, until a candidate emerges with a two-thirds majority.
If no candidate is chosen after 30 votes, the candidate with the highest number wins.
In theory any Catholic can be chosen pope, but the job has gone to a cardinal since 1378.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR