Swiss bishops and priests implicated in abuse cover-ups

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

September 13, 2023

By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt and Tom Heneghan

A report of abuse in the Swiss Church from the University of Zurich, commissioned by the bishops’ conference, was published on 12 September.

The Vatican has started preliminary investigations of six Swiss bishops and a number of priests accused of covering up abuse.

In a statement published on 10 September after the Swiss tabloid Sonntagsblick publicised the accusations, the Swiss bishops’ conference confirmed that the Vatican had begun investigations.

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Joseph Maria Bonnemain of Chur to lead the investigations, due to be completed by the end of the year.

“The main subject of these preliminary investigations by the Church are the accusations that abuse cases have been covered up,” the statement said.  

“The police and the public prosecutor’s office are, in the first instance, responsible for suspected sexual crimes.

“When abuse of minors is suspected, the Swiss bishops’ conference’s guidelines oblige church leaders to notify the public prosecutor’s office after consulting the person concerned.  This has been done as far as the cases mentioned are concerned.”

In May Fr Nicolas Betticher, a parish priest in Bern who is a former vicar-general of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, and a former spokesman of the bishops’ conference, told the Swiss nuncio, Archbishop Martin Krebs, that six bishops – four of whom are still in office – had covered up abuse, and that one bishop was himself an abuser.  The nuncio duly informed the Vatican.

Interviewed by the Swiss news outlet, Fr Betticher said he had always maintained professional discretion and did not send his letter to the Sonntagsblick.

“My letter was an internal communication to the Vatican and was concerned with abuse in the Swiss Church which requires looking into,” he said.  

“The letter has now apparently found its way into the media.  As it has become public I am as a matter of course commenting on it.”

Fr Betticher said that the letter was intended not only to clarify what abuse had occurred historically, but to prompt the the Church to accept responsibility, to draw consequences and to remove the perpetrators from service.

“That is what we are required to do as a Church and it is my concern that we do just that.  I am thinking of the victims as it is they we are concerned with not the church officials.  And that includes me when I was vicar-general 15 years ago,” he said.  

“I can no long accept that we carry on as we are. I am in contact with many victims who continue to inform me that their reports of abuse still have no consequences for the perpetrators – and that is really bad.”

Betticher’s letter says that three priests in the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg abused minors, according to details published in the Sonntagsblick story. 

Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg and Bishop Alain de Raemy, an auxiliary in the diocese, are accused of knowing of the cases but not acting as required.

According to the French Swiss broadcaster RTS, Morerod said on Sunday evening: “I am awaiting the end of the inquiry and I am waiting serenely.”

On Monday morning he told RTS: “I’ve responded in a very detailed way to all the elements in this letter within the inquiry underway.  I cannot tell you more.”

He did, however, observe: “It’s difficult to break with the culture of silence quite present in the Catholic Church.”

Betticher also accused Archbishop Jean-Claude Perisset, who was nuncio in Germany in 2007-2013, of covering up an abuse case, but Perisset has said that as the accused was a Capuchin, he handed the case over to the head of the order.

An historical report of abuse in the Swiss Church from the University of Zurich, commissioned by the bishops’ conference, was published on 12 September.

It recorded 1,002 abuse cases by 510 perpetrators, with 921 victims – 56 per cent male and 39 per cent female.  The report was said to be “just the tip of an iceberg”.