As Pope John Paul II nears the halfway stage of a six-day tour of Switzerland, Peter Stanford looks into the underlying tensions in the Swiss church.
Preaching unity in Calvin-land
THE TWO FIGURES most readily associated with the religious heritage of' Switzerland — John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli — were both fearless in challenging and rejecting established Catholic notions of biblical truth in their day.
Now, nearly 450 years after Calvin caused a storm with the publication of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in Geneva, Pope John Paul II is visiting Calvin's Swiss homeland.
The visit so far has been marked by informality. None of the pomp and splendour which accompanied the Pope in the Far East has been seen in Switzerland — in line with Swiss tradition.
Some sources have reported that enthusiasm too is thin on the ground. Certainly demonstrations and protests ia several Swiss newspapers greeted the Pope's arrival, but these have been confidently dismissed by Swiss and Vatican officials as representing the views of a small minority.
Some 49 per cent of the Swiss population of 6.3 million is Catholic. Catholicism replaced Protestantism as the predominant religion in the country in 1970, largely because of the influx of foreign workers.
This situation has caused lively tensions between the two churches. On the eve of the Pope's visit the Swiss Catholic bishops noted that "painful and sensitive" divisions still remained between the two groups.
The tensions are at the centre of the current Geneva diocese controversy. The foundation of
a new Catholic diocese at Geneva was first suggested by the Catholic bishops in July 1982, but it was followed by a series of stony rejections by the Protestant churches, who felt that to erect a Catholic Diocese in Calvin's town was an unacceptable affront to their beliefs.
Despite being faced with these delicate relations with the other churches. in Switzerland, the Catholic bishops are acutely aware of the danger of becoming too wrapped up in their own problems.
In their welcoming statement on the eve of the Pope's visit, the bishops spoke of their anxiety to throw off this image of insularity. "The Swiss takes his patterns from the mountains" they said. "He withdraws to the redoubts".
Ecumenicism certainly appears to be a central theme in Pope John Paul's visit. He was greeted at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva on June 12 by its leader, the Rev Philip Potter.
Pope John Paul has voiced his support for the work of the WCC on several occasions. To coincide with the Geneva meeting, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity read a joint Catholic-WCC statement on the importance of common witness in the Christian churches.
The Pope's visit has been described as a "welcome opportunity for renewing our commitment to the work for the unity of all Christians" by the WCC. Direct Catholic cooperation with the WCC dates back as far as 1965 when a joint working group was set up to examine questions of unity.
During his six-day stay the Pope also made contact with other religious groups., He went to the Orthodox centre at Chambesy, opened in 1966 to promote understanding of the eastern church, met with the Swiss Jewish Community and the Swiss Evangelical Association of Kehrsatz.
The suggestions of a lack of enthusiasm for the Papal trip were echoed by Professor Hans Kong in a recent interview with The Times.
Professor Kling, who will be in Toronto during the Papal
visit, receiving an honorary degree, was banned from working as a Catholic theologian in December 1979.
He noted in the interview that "the (Catholic) bishops were worried that not enough people would go to the Mass at Lucerne".
He went on: "And so I heard that they made a special point of inviting foreign workers in the country, all the Italians and others who they think will be a little more enthusiastic about the Pope than the Swiss". Professor Kung went on in the interview to ask for real progress to be made in the field of ecumenical relations in areas such as intercommunion.
In mentioning the foreign workers in Switzerland, Professor Kiing was highlighting a very real problem for the bishops. The traditional image of stabilty and ecomomic prosperity of Switzerland has attracted many foreign workers into the country. especially from Italy. Many of these immigrants are Catholics, and the conditions in which they are forced to live has lead the Catholic bishops to come to their defence.
In particular the Catholic Worker Movement, as well as several Protestant groups, has criticised laws restricting the freedom of foreign workers as a denial of basic human rights. The workers' stay is limited to nine months, but their families may only remain with them for three months at a time, upto a maximum of six months each year. The Catholic Worker Movement has, so far unsuccessfully, petitioned the Swiss Government to alter the laws to allow families to stay together. The Pope will meet members of the expatriate communities on June 16 at Tribachen Park.
Switzerland is a profoundly conservative country in every sense. This is reflected within the Catholic church. A group known as the Old Cathols, founded in 1874, continues to function in Switzerland. They accept many Catholic ideas, but their split came after Vatican I when they rejected the notion of papal infallibility. Not surprisingly, no plans have been made for them to meet the Pope.
However, another group for whom Vatican II proved an even greater trial has asked unsuccessfully to meet the Pope.
The Priestly Society of St Pius X, led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is based at Econe just a few miles from Sion where the Pope plans to ordain priests on June 17.
The Society rejected the teachings of Vatican II and continued to ordain priests as Econe. Archbishop Lefebvre, who has condemned ecumenicism as "heresy", was suspended a divinis from exercising his priestly functions in 1976.
The coexistence of the ecumenical WCC and the traditionalist Society of St Pius X emphasises the contrasts found in Switzerland. The tension with the Protestant churches adds to the delicacy of the Pope's task in Switzerland.
The visit will be marked by few major developments in ecumenical relations, but the various meetings of the Pope with different religious groups will undoubtedly smooth the way to more fruitful discussions in the future, and perhaps to some, at least, of the changes that Professor Ming would like to see.