Vatican investigating Swiss bishops’ handling of sex abuse cases


The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lungern, Switzerland / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference on Sunday revealed an ongoing Vatican-ordered investigation into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by Church officials, with the inquiry expected to run until at least the end of the year.

The conference said in a statement on Monday that allegations had been made in May of this year “against several emeriti and acting members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference” as well as against “other clerics in their handling of sexual abuse cases.”

Swiss Church authorities forwarded the allegations to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome. Several weeks later the dicastery “ordered a preliminary canonical investigation into the matter,” appointing Swiss Diocese of Chur Bishop Joseph Bonnemain to lead the inquiry.

Bonnemain previously handled similar investigations in Switzerland for more than 30 years, the conference said. His investigation “is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.”

The primary purpose of the investigation, the announcement said, is “the accusations of covering up cases of abuse.” The criminal allegations of sexual abuse, the statement said, are handled by secular authorities and have been reported to them.

The conference said it was “unable to provide further details” due to the ongoing nature of the inquiry.

The bishops noted that the “preliminary” investigation is meant to determine “whether there is sufficient evidence to initiate ecclesiastical criminal or disciplinary proceedings.” The results of the initial inquiry are then forwarded to the dicastery, which will determine how to proceed.

Bonnemain told that he would “have liked to have rejected the order from Rome” due to his being “not well.”

“I have promised for the sake of the victims and justice,” the bishop said. “Now I have to do it and check the accusations.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, said it spoke to Father Nicolas Betticher, a priest at the parish of Bruder Klaus in Bern, who said he wrote the May letter that ultimately launched the inquiry.

Betticher told the AP that he had been motivated by urging from Pope Francis for clergy to proactively report allegations of abuse if they were aware of them. The priest criticized Church authorities for what he said were “mistakes” made in the past in dealing with such allegations.

“Today, we can no longer afford to simply say, ‘Ah yes, I know, but I didn’t do it quite right, but we’ll do better next time,’” Betticher told the news wire. “That’s over.”

Swiss Catholic authorities in 2021 approved an independent study of abuse by Church authorities in the country, with the study reportedly set to be released on Tuesday.

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