Swiss bishops denounce calls for Pope to retire

Pope John Paul II is facing calls for his retirement Keystone

Swiss bishops say they are disgusted by an open letter calling on Pope John Paul II to stand down.

This content was published on May 18, 2004 minutes

The publication of the letter – signed by more than 40 Catholic priests and lay people – coincided with the Pontiff’s 84th birthday on Tuesday.

It also comes just three weeks before the Pope visits Switzerland for the first time in 20 years.

One Swiss bishop, Kurt Koch, said the decision to publish the letter as the Pope celebrated his birthday was "disgusting and disloyal".

Marc Aellen, spokesman for the Swiss Bishops Conference, said it was "extremely upsetting that people should use the arrival of the Pope to make such a comment”.

The letter “is not characteristic of the greeting which Switzerland is preparing for him," Aellen added.

The Pope, who has Parkinson’s disease and arthritis, will make his first visit abroad in six months when he comes to Switzerland for a youth gathering on June 5 and 6.

The letter, which was delivered to the Bishops Conference on Friday, was signed by priests, theology professors, and Catholic lay people.

One of the signatories was Xavier Pfister, information officer for the Catholic Church in Basel. In an interview with swissinfo on Tuesday, Pfister said the Pope had done important work.

“We say that in the letter. We're not saying he's not a good Pope,” Pfister said.

Credibility problem

But he said that the Church was best served by the retirement of any pope by age 75, the age when bishops retire. These days, the media are more focused on the Pope’s health than his message, he added.

“As his age increases and his health deteriorates, his abilities are increasingly in doubt and the Pope is in some ways less credible. And we think it's important to tell him that, so that he gives some thought to standing down,” Pfister said.

"The other thing is that he said he would like to make the Church fit for the third millennium. We think that in the third millennium it should be considered normal by Church leaders that the Pope retires, in order to preserve the credibility of the office.”

People are living longer than ever before, and this requires another look at the time period over which a Pope might be expected to serve in office, he added.

Pfister conceded that the timing of the letter was deliberate.

"In the run-up to the Pope's visit, it is important to make clear the different views within the Swiss Catholic Church regarding the Pope and this situation.“

The Pope spent his birthday receiving visitors, including the prime minister of Portugal and the president of Poland.

A Vatican newspaper called the Pope “ever young” in a birthday greeting.

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

In brief:

A letter proposing retirement of any Pope by age 75 was delivered to the Swiss Bishops Conference on Friday

The letter was signed by more than 40 priests, theology professors and Catholic lay people.

The Swiss Bishops Conference denounced the letter and its timing ahead of the Pope’s birthday and planned visit to Switzerland.

On Tuesday, “Get Up, Let Us Go,” the latest book by Pope John Paul II, went on sale.

The Pontiff is due to travel to Switzerland on June 5/6 - his second official visit in 20 years.

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Key facts

Religious adherence in Switzerland
Catholics: 44%
Protestants: 37%
Muslims: 4.5%
Other denominations and without religion: 14.2%

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