Swiss ecclesiastical criminal court to be established in 2024

Swissinfo [Bern, Switzerland]

November 24, 2023

The future criminal court of the Swiss Catholic Church will be set up next year to try cases of sexual abuse.

The Bishop of Basel, Felix Gmür, announced this on Friday, responding in particular to the Lucerne Synod, which is blocking part of its financial contributions.

When cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church result in a judgment by a Swiss criminal court, the ecclesiastical tribunal must take over, explained Bishop Gmür, President of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, to the media. This tribunal must be made up of specialists who are familiar with ecclesiastical law, without necessarily being Catholics.

Expanding the pool of judges

Until now, criminal cases within the Swiss Catholic Church have been dealt with solely by a court attached to one or other bishopric. The creation of a court bringing together all the country’s dioceses means that a larger pool of specialists, such as judges, will be available to carry out this task.

Gmür also announced that the Bishopric of Basel is to set up a mediation service for cases of all kinds. This body will not only receive reports of sexual abuse, but also disagreements of all kinds.

In mid-September, the University of Zurich published a study commissioned by the Swiss Catholic Church into sexual abuse within the church since the middle of the last century. At least a thousand cases have been documented, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, as most cases have been covered up, ignored or minimised. The study was commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, over which Gmür presides.

Partial boycott in Lucerne

On November 8, the parliament of the Lucerne Catholic Church decided to pay only half of its contribution of CHF884,000 to the diocese of Basel, as long as the latter did not announce concrete steps to deal with cases of sexual abuse in the diocese. It does not intend to decide on the release of the other half of the funds until autumn 2024.

Speaking to the media, Bishop Gmür said he understood the concerns of the Lucerne Synod and respected its decision, while still criticising the move. “It would have been better and more desirable to discuss the matter together first,” he stated.  Gmür added that he was ready to enter into dialogue with a commission appointed by the Lucerne Synod: “We will discuss it and find a good solution.”

According to the finance commission for the diocese’s cantonal Catholic communities, the Lucerne decision is “not a good one”, as it could lead to cost-cutting measures. The budget of the diocese of Basel amounts to CHF5.1 million, of which CHF3.8 million comes from the contributions of the cantonal synods. The commission supports the continuation of the study into sexual abuse, the bringing to light of all the facts and the compensation of victims.