Bishop Accused of Hate Speech in “Death to Gays” Controversy

Bishop Vitus Huonder

A Swiss bishop is facing criticism for quoting a Leviticus passage used against gay people in a recent address on marriage, criticism that could result in hate speech charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur was addressing traditionalist Catholics at the “Joy in Faith” forum in Germany last Friday when he made the controversial remarks. SwissInfo reported:

“Regarding homosexuality, the 73-year-old bishop quoted two verses from the book of Leviticus, including Leviticus 20:13: ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’

“In response to applause, he continued: ‘Both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church’s position on homosexuality’.”

Huonder’s address, “Marriage: A Gift, Sacrament and Order,” also attacked gender theory, divorce, sex education, and marriage equality. He claimed that “no diversity” exists in families and continued,”Even speaking of family diversity is an attack on the Creator.” The full address in German is available here.

Facing criticism, the bishop apologized in a statement on Monday, denying any contempt towards lesbian and gay people and saying he is sorry if comments were misunderstood.

Still, LGBT advocates are sustaining their public criticism of a bishop whose anti-LGBT record is notable.

Pink Cross, an LGBT group in Switzerland, is investigating whether Huonder could be prosecuted for hate speech after stating their “shock and anger” at the bishop’s remarks. 360.ch, a Swiss LGBT magazine, drew parallels to a knife attack at Jerusalem’s Pride Parade that happened only the day before, writing:

“It was in the name of these same Bible passages that a Jewish extremist stabbed six people.”

This is not Huonder’s first citation of Levitical law in relation to homosexuality, reported TheLocal.ch. He did so during a March speech to young priests in the diocese. In February, he came close to punishing a priest who had blessed a same-gender couple. In 2011, he argued against sex education because it would destroy children’s sense of shame.

Even with his record, did Bishop Huonder advocate the death penalty for gay people? Technically, he never explicitly did so, but his irresponsible language makes it very easy for others to interpret that he did.

His comments reveal a stunning fundamentalism for a Catholic bishop who should be otherwise educated. It is simplistic to suggest any single passage from Scriptures suffices to support or explain Catholic teaching, especially on a matter as complex as homosexuality.

Contemporary Scripture scholarship makes clear these passages from Leviticus and other “clobber texts” used to condemn homosexuality are not actually speaking of homosexuality as it is understood today in light of modern science and theological methods. The use of “abomination,” also applied for eating shellfish and other prohibitions since jettisoned by Christians, was a cultural marker that helped the Hebrews differentiate their people from others in the region.

The fact that Huonder’s chosen passage includes reference to the death penalty elevates his comment from ignorant to absurd and  dangerous. Whether or not Huonder’s remarks constitute hate speech in a legal setting will be determined. We can conclude his remarks are utterly deprived of mercy and respect.

I wrote several weeks ago about a post-marriage agenda for the Catholic Church that focuses on ending the shedding of Christ’s blood given that LGBT people are frequently wounded and killed, and wrote:

“No one should oppose loving youths who, while journeying to find their truest selves, often suffer deep pain and face rejection. No one should support criminalizing homosexuality, even if they consider same-sex acts morally wrong, and certainly the church has a clear voice against the death penalty. No one should think discriminating against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is consistent with Christ’s inclusive witness. And no one, anywhere, should justify the murder or rape of a trans* person as consistent with God’s will or the church’s teaching. No one.”

And yet, Bishop Huonder seems opposed to these types of initiatives and instead seems to actively work against ending injustice when he irresponsibly employs Scripture and church teaching.  The pastoral implications of a bishop preaching dangerous words are severe, providing cover for those prejudiced against LGBT people who may enact discrimination and violence as a result.

What is needed now is at least one concrete act by Bishop Huonder to reconcile with LGBT people. May God provide him the wisdom and courage to do so very soon.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

9 Responses to Bishop Accused of Hate Speech in “Death to Gays” Controversy

  1. Christine A. Hearn says:

    Almost sounds like a Nazi speech by a bishop who should know better. Why is there always a group of people to hate? What is wrong with “diversity?” I do hope Pope Francis sees this and does something to correct the mind of this man. No wonder people leave the church.

  2. Kat says:

    The bishop and his words are a disgrace to Catholic church. I too hope that Pope does something like send him to counseling, lgbt family support groups, and demote the crazy old man. Because of foul Catholic sheppherd voices like his, in my opinion, the Catholic church does more harm in our world than good.

  3. Marge Leonard says:

    I doubt that this bishop’s mind and heart can be changed. I have a greater concern about his comment while speaking out against sex education because it “would destroy the children’s sense of shame”. My wife and I are raising many children and strive to engender in them a sense of blessing and goodness about their bodies and sexuality.

  4. Chris Nunez says:

    The term ‘hate speech’ is a politically charged way of sidestepping the challenge that should have been leveled at the bishop by correcting him. If we want our theological misunderstandings corrected, then we should use theological language and not political language. We do not help our flock advance the Church’s knowledge by resorting to politically charged rhetoric rather than helping the flock acquire the proper language.

    Really, are you folks trying to ‘dumb down’ Catholic social teaching using political rhetoric?

    • Chris, You make a very good point. Just for the record, the blog writer did not say that the bishop’s comments were hate speech, but that others have called it that. In fact, our blog writer said just the opposite. Here’s a paragraph from near the end of the post:

      “The fact that Huonder’s chosen passage includes reference to the death penalty elevates his comment from ignorant to absurd and dangerous. Whether or not Huonder’s remarks constitute hate speech in a legal setting will be determined. We can conclude his remarks are utterly deprived of mercy and respect.”

      Hate speech is certainly a political/legal category. Mercy and respect are theological ones. I agree with you that as Catholics we have to hold our bishops to the standard of these theological categories, which I don’t think is too much to ask of a bishop (though he, like all of us, are bound to fail in these respects from time to time).

      Thanks for your insightful comment!

    • Or Sombre says:

      The term ‘hate speech’ has a legal definition: it is a crime. Bishops too must obey the law, and when they do not, they are sued and condemned.
      Being a bishop should not be an excuse to call for the murder of a minority.

  5. bjmonda says:

    Perhaps the Church should also take out a crusade against the millions of gender benders that occur naturally in the animal, insect, fish, bird and reptile populations. Or someone should remind him: GOD IS INTO DIVERSITY. IT IS WHAT MAKES LIFE VIABLE! NATURE IS DIVERSITY.

  6. Paul Halsall says:

    I looked into this further. The bishop is certainly no friend of gays (or divorced people come to that), But the whole lecture he gave is online, and in the lecture he gives the text of all the various biblical texts and discusses them. He clearly is not using the text to call for death to gays. Although I may be wrong, I think the Bona Fides of the Swiss Pink Cross group may be called into question here.

    The text of the lecture is at

    http://www.bistum-chur.ch/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Vortrag.pdf

  7. […] Vitus Huonder of Chur quoted Leviticus in a July address at a conference of German-speaking traditionalist Catholics. Though he technically never suggested […]

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