An ultraconservative Swiss bishop has been served after claiming that coronavirus is “God’s punishment”.

– Chur auxiliary bishop expecting “miracles” in COVID-19 pandemic

Auxiliary Bishop of Chur Marian Eleganti released a video March 10 in which he said he was expecting “miracles” in the coronavirus pandemic, and “count[ing] on the power and protection of God”.

“How can we capitulate in the face of this supernatural reality?”, Eleganti asked, affirming that he believed that coronavirus can’t be transmitted via the consecrated host, and appealing for believers to continue to communicate as a way to make their faith not abstract but “existential” and “concrete”.

“I believe in this supernatural power of the presence of God in the Holy Host, which is the Body of Christ”, Eleganti declared.

– “Clearly a connection” between a people’s spiritual and physical well-being

But beyond even this rash providentialism, it was Eleganti’s remarks on the connection between a people’s “spiritual state” and the “historical events” that people endure that generated the most controversy.

Prayer, penance, repentance and trust in God – or the absence of these – all have an effect on the well-being of nations and of individual people, the Chur auxiliary explained, adding that in the Bible, even, “there is clearly a connection” between spiritual and physical well-being “that we must not overlook”.

Consequently, Eleganti affirmed that preventative measures against coronavirus such the closure of holy water stoups in churches or the prohibition of receiving Communion on the tongue are a capitulation of belief to prevailing social trends.

Especially in Lourdes, where thousands of people have bathed in the healing waters that have now been closed because of the virus threat, it has “never” been reported that someone had contracted an infection, the Swiss bishop decried.

– Critics fire back: Bishop’s comments “cynical and incompatible with Jesus’ message”

Eleganti’s suggestion that the coronavirus epidemic is God’s punishment for the world’s lack of faith today quickly came under fire both from lay Church leaders, health authorities and even from fellow bishops.

Franziska Driessen-Reding, the lay President of the Synodal Council of Zürich’s Catholic Church, blasted Eleganti for his “cynical” comments, and even a spokeswoman for the Swiss Bishops’ Conference also backed away from the prelate’s controversial remarks, explaning that those were “of a purely personal nature and therefore only obliging to him”.

Even the Zürich health department criticised Eleganti, and reminded the prelate that “those responsible for the Catholic Church [are] to strictly follow the recommendations of the authorities”.

For his part, German Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, directly contradicted Eleganti and said that “to call coronavirus the punishment of God is cynical and incompatible with Jesus’ message”.

Schick’s slap-down of Eleganti was followed by a similar reproach from new German Bishops’ President Georg Bätzing, bishop of the Limburg diocese, who added that the spread of the coronaviru is “certainly not a punishment from God, which we must fear and from which we cannot escape”.

Rather “God loves people unconditionally and he wants us to be well”, Bätzing shot back at Eleganti.

– Coronavirus restrictions in Swiss churches

While continuing to allow, at least for the moment, the celebration of public Masses in the presence of 100 people or fewer, the Swiss Bishops are directing that those faithful who present flu-like symptoms abstain from attending Mass, that the Eucharist be received only in the hand, that Eucharistic ministers disinfect their hands before distributing the host and that there is no handshake at the sign of peace, among other measures.

As of this March 14, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Switzerland stood at over 1,100, with 11 deaths from the disease.

Next on Novena:

The spoon of patriotism: why the Greek Orthodox are refusing to give up Communion in times of coronavirus (and are making it political)

French bishop rips reckless providentialist Catholics “tempting God” in coronavirus pandemic

European Bishops pray for deliverance from coronavirus as continental Churches increase precautions… with exceptions

Orthodox Churches hold out on COVID-19 bans, insist Communion cannot transmit virus

Italian Church group head questions coronavirus Mass suspensions: “Can the State decide on ceremonies in churches?”

French bishop deplores coronavirus fearmongering: “It seems we’ve all lost our minds!”

Risk prevention or capitulation to fear? Italian Church group head criticises coronavirus Mass cancellations

Italian cardinal dismisses conspiracy theory that coronavirus is “divine punishment”


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