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Swiss bishop reprimands clergy after viral video of woman ‘concelebrating’ Mass

The Swiss bishops’ call for adherence to Catholic “rules” followed an internet controversy over an August 2022 video of a laywoman who seemed to concelebrate Mass with priests. / Credit: Katholisches Medienzentrum YouTube screenshot

Denver, Colo., Sep 11, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A viral video showing two priests celebrating Mass with a Swiss laywoman at the altar has resulted in a formal reprimand of the pastors by Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland, but there will not be a canonical proceeding.

“Careful investigation of the matter has shown that there were no serious liturgical violations in this service, the assessment of which would be reserved for the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith,” said a Sept. 8 joint statement whose signatories included Bonnemain. “Therefore, no criminal proceedings are required under canon law.”

“However, important liturgical regulations that are binding for the entire Church were ignored in this service,” the statement added. “The bishop therefore cannot avoid issuing a formal reprimand to the pastors involved in this regard.”

The joint statement came from the Diocese of Chur, St. Martin Catholic Parish, the pastors and clergy involved in the controversy, and Monika Schmid.

The August 2022 Mass in the Diocese of Chur marked the retirement of Schmid, a longtime de facto parish administrator. Video of the Mass depicted Schmid as she appeared to concelebrate the Eucharist with the priests. 

Schmid stood at the altar in ordinary dress with two priests beside her. She extended her arms and pronounced with them the words of the Consecration and an extensively revised version of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The joint statement noted that the farewell service received broad media coverage.

Following controversy over the video, Schmid denied her actions constituted an attempt to concelebrate Mass or to be provocative. She acknowledged that as a woman she can’t validly celebrate the Eucharist as ordained Catholic priests do. 

Canon 907 of the Catholic Church’s canon law bars Catholic deacons and Catholic laity from offering the Eucharistic Prayer and from performing actions “proper to the celebrating priest.”

The joint statement discussed the bishop’s response.

“On Aug. 15, 2023, Bishop Joseph Maria Bonnemain issued the appropriate warning to the five affected people during detailed personal discussions in the expectation that these mistakes will not be repeated in the future,” the statement said.

At the same time, the statement from the diocese said Bonnemain “expressed his confidence in all the pastors involved and thanks them for their committed pastoral work for the good of the people.”

In the wake of the controversial video, Bonnemain joined Bishops Felix Gmür of Basel and Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen in writing a Jan. 5 letter to people active in pastoral care in their dioceses, as CNA previously reported

Only ordained priests may preside at Mass, and the liturgy should not be “a testing ground for personal projects,” said the three bishops, whose dioceses are the predominantly German-speaking dioceses of Switzerland.

The bishops acknowledged people’s desire to participate in the liturgy but said the Catholic liturgy has a universal character, and this especially concerns celebrations of the sacraments. They referred to Pope Francis’ June 2022 apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi. It insists on the quality of liturgies, the careful attention to every aspect of liturgical celebration, and the observance of every rubric.

“Common witness requires common forms and rules. We bishops regularly receive requests and worried reactions: The faithful have a right to religious services that respect the rules and forms of the Church,” they said.

Schmid, the pastoral worker whose retirement Mass sparked the controversy, was critical of the bishops’ letter upon its release in January. She advocated a liturgical celebration that, in her view, “reaches out to people in their daily lives, in their language, and in their understanding of themselves,” the Swiss Catholic internet news portal Cath.ch reported.

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