A grandmother of four has made history in becoming an ‘episcopal vicar’ in Switzerland.

– What’s an ‘episcopal vicar’?

The diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg announced May 19 on its website that Bishop Charles Morerod had appointed laywoman Marianne Pohl-Henzen as ‘episcopal delegate’ of the German-speaking vicariate of Fribourg.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law sets out that ‘vicars general’, appointed to assist bishops in the governance of dioceses, have “the same executive power throughout the whole diocese as that which belongs by law to the diocesan bishop; that is, [they] can perform all administrative acts, with the exception however of those which the bishop has reserved to himself, or which by law require a special mandate of the bishop”.

‘Episcopal vicars’ have the same powers as vicars general, “but only for the determined part of the territory of type of activity, or for the faithful of the determined rite or groups, for which [they were] appointed”.

The Code of Canon Law stipulates, however, that both vicars general and episcopal vicars must be priests, for which reason Pohl-Henzen has received the charge of ‘episcopal delegate’, even though she will have much the same authority as an episcopal vicar.

The Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg diocese explained in its press release today that there are six episcopal vicars in the local Church, corresponding to the five vicariates (Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and two in Fribourg, one French- and one German-speaking) plus an additional vicar for vocations.

By virtue of their office, the Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg episcopal vicars sit on the Bishop’s Council – a body that meets weekly to advise the local ordinary on governance – and on the Presbyteral Council, which is composed of priests of the diocese.

– Well-qualified for the role

Having worked for the past eight years as an adjunct to the three previous Deutschfreiburg episcopal vicars, Pohl-Henzen is certainly well-qualified for her new role, which she will take up August 1.

A Fribourg local, the new episcopal delegate worked for 18 years as a catechist and lay pastor in parishes in the local lake district, particularly in that of Courtepin and in the bilingual parish of Murten, as well as completing higher studies in philology and theology.

Pohl-Henzen, a married mother of three and grandmother of four, has also worked as a coach of pastoral care teams in Vaud and as a pastoral assistant in a French-speaking pastoral care unit in Fribourg.

In the diocesan press release today, Bishop Morerod welcomed Pohl-Henzen into her new role and thanked for his service her predecessor, Pascal Marquard, who is returning to his native Zurich to continue his priesthood and ministry there.


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