Swiss bishop replaces episcopal vicars with lay people: Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg appoints two lay people and a permanent deacon to posts that have always been held by priests
By Youna Rivallain | La Croix May 2021
Swiss Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg (LGF) has appointed a lay woman, a layman and a permanent deacon as “episcopal delegates” in three areas of the diocese. In order to carry out this small revolution, the 59-year-old bishop changed entities that were previously vicariates into “diocesan regions”.
In French-speaking Fribourg, Céline Ruffieux, a pastoral worker, teacher and psychologist, replaces Rev. Jean Glasson, who has been serving as episcopal vicar. The priest has been reassigned as parish moderator in the city of Vevey. In Neuchâtel, Deacon Romuald Babey, a pastoral worker, teacher and former school principal, succeeds Rev. Pietro Guerini, who will return to Bergamo, his home diocese in Italy. Finally, Michel Racloz, a layman, replaces Rev. Christophe Godel, for whom he is the current delegate. Godel will be the parish priest of La-Chaux-de-Fonds as of September.
The German-speaking region of Fribourg retains Marianne Pohl-Henzen, who has been serving as epsicopal delegate since August 2020.
“The Church is the responsibility of all Christians”
The delegates serve as the bishop’s representative to the parishes in these diocesan regions.
They also represent the bishop before certain state bodies and ecclesiastical corporations at the local level, as well as with other religions (such as in hospital or prison chaplaincies, for example).
Bishop Morerod, a Dominican theologian who has headed the LGF diocese since 2011, explained the new appointments by noting that the Church is everyone’s business.
“I hope when people look at the Church, they can see Jesus, see his active presence. It is the responsibility for all Christians. It is not a matter of dealing only with structures, but of being witnesses,” he told the Swiss Catholic website Cath.ch.
The desire to give greater responsibility to the laity is also motivated by the reality of the lack of dynamism in certain regions.
“First of all, I want priests to be able to collaborate in their own pastoral role by developing pastoral hubs, rather than being assigned to organizational tasks,” said Bishop Morerod who was rector at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (“Angelicum”) from 2009-2011.
The two Swiss priests who are moving out of the episcopal vicar’s post will be responsible for developing pastoral centers in parishes.
With this decision, Bishop Morerod is inviting his fellow bishops to give more responsibility to the laity, “and not only to deal with administrative matters, but also in pastoral work”.
He has intentionally chosen people from the field who already know the future situations they will have to deal with.
They come from different backgrounds and skills “and will not see the whole reality from the same angle”, the bishop told Cath.ch.
“God made us in his image and likeness, but he did not make us identical. This diversity contributes to the understanding of the life of the Church. It is not just a necessity due to a lack of people,” Morerod said.
His three new espiscopal delegates will be installed to five-year terms on September 1.