A Swiss bishop being called a “horror clown” and “cynical” has been muzzled by his diocese for comments on coronavirus reflecting “irresponsible and dangerous… superstition”.

– Chur apostolic administrator laments “confusion” caused by auxiliary Marian Eleganti’s traditionalism

Auxiliary Bishop of Chur Marian Eleganti has been under fire for his continuing insistence that coronavirus is “God’s punishment”, for his criticism of Catholic authorities’ supposed capitulation to the State in banning public Masses during the outbreak, and for his belief that a consecrated Host cannot transmit disease.

Apostolic administrator of Chur Bishop Pierre Bürcher finally lost patience with Eleganti March 18, and ordered the auxiliary to speak publicly only when his thoughts are “in agreement” with those of the rest of the diocese.

In the light of Eleganti’s comments on COVID-19, “confusion has arisen among the faithful and in the public about the attitude of the diocese of Chur in this regard”, Bürcher lamented.

“For this reason I have instructed auxiliary bishop Marian that in the future he will only voice his opinion to the media in agreement with me and the diocesan press officer”.

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference had earlier dissociated itself from Eleganti’s beliefs, clarifying through a spokeswoman that his comments “are of a purely personal nature and therefore oblige only him”.

– Auxiliary admits: “How the real presence of Christ in the Host… can exist together with contamination is a mystery to me”

In cancelling Masses and other Church meetings and services, Eleganti had deplored that Church authorities were following “only the logic of the state, the secular one”.

The advice of governments and health authorities was, by the Church, being “implemented obediently, but no longer that wisdom by faith and prayer, which is folly and scandal to the world, but which in our context could be expected from the Church”, the auxiliary bishop denounced.

Eleganti had also affirmed his belief that by his real presence in the Eucharist, Christ would not allow a recipient of the consecrated Host to become infected by any illness.

“How faith in the real presence of Christ in the Host… can exist together with the fear of a deadly contamination from which the God present in the Host will not save me is a mystery to me”, the auxiliary admitted.

– Catholics shoot back: bishop “exploiting a crisis for his ecclesio-political agenda”, prelate doubles down

Eleganti has been sharply criticised in Swiss Church circles for holding to his ultratraditionalist Catholicism against the advice of health authorities and his brother Swiss bishops, who this March 17 banned all public Masses across the country.

Editor in chief of Swiss Catholic news service kath.ch, called Eleganti a “horror clown”, denouncing that the bishop was “exploiting a crisis for his ecclesio-political agenda”.

Franziska Driessen-Reding, lay President of the Synodal Council of Zürich’s Catholic Church, railed against the auxiliary bishop and decried that “in view of the many victims that the corona pandemic has already claimed” – with over 3,800 positive cases and over 30 deaths in Switzerland alone – Eleganti’s talk of COVID-19 being “God’s punishment” is “simply cynical”.

Eleganti’s belief, too, that only the Host but also Holy Water cannot transmit diseases is “irresponsible and dangerous superstition”, Driessen-Reding denounced.

But in comments to ultraconservative media outlet LifeSite, the Chur auxiliary doubled down on his controversial views on coronavirus, and accused his Catholic critics of holding to only “a symbolic understanding of transubstantiation and the consecrated Host”.

“I, for my part, remain faithful to my belief in the salvific effect and power of the Holy Eucharist, because for me it is the present God, the Body of Christ”, Eleganti said.

– Church figures not immune to COVID-19 conspiracy theories

The fear and uncertainty around the extent and spread of coronavirus has unfortunately led to a multitude of conspiracy theories that are putting lives at risk, and to which theories, sadly, Church figures have not been foreign.

To cite but two examples of Catholic figures promoting misinformation around the virus crisis: Sri Lankan cardinal Malcolm Ranjith recently affirmed that the outbreak of COVID-19 is the result of the reckless experimentation of “rich countries” with nature, while Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff said that the virus is the “retaliation” of Mother Earth.

In actual fact, the latest scientific research suggests that the coronavirus originated in bats, but then was transferred to humans through an intermediary animal sold in the seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China, the ground zero of the outbreak, with that animal likely to have been perhaps a turtle or a pangolin.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.