Swiss Gay Group Files Criminal Complaint Against Catholic Bishop for Old Testament Speech

A gay rights group has filed a criminal complaint against a Roman Catholic bishop after he quoted Bible verses calling for gay people to be killed and said the passage made clear what Church policy was on homosexuality.

Vitus Huonder, the Catholic Bishop of the city of Chur in eastern Switzerland, made the speech on 31 July, during a debate on marriage and family organised by the German Catholic Forum in Fulda, Germany.

According to Swiss media reports, Huonder, 73, read out a passage from 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." His reading was followed by applause, before Huonder continued: "Both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church's position on homosexuality," according to a statement released by Pink Cross, an umbrella association for Swiss gay groups that is filing the complaint.

Pink Cross, supported by the Swiss Lesbian Organisation, argues that these comments amount to "inciting people to crime or violence," and handed a lawsuit to the public prosecutor of Canton Graubünden in eastern Switzerland on Monday. If found guilty, Huonder faces up to three years in prison.

In a statement, Bastian Baumann, Director of Pink Cross, said: "As a figure of authority within the church, Vitus Huonder accepts that his demand will meet with approval among Christians and other fundamentalists and could be followed obediently." Baumann also said that the bishop had crossed a "red line."

Baumann later told Newsweek that while Pink Cross does not oppose the Bishop quoting controversial passages of the Bible, the group believes that calling upon his followers to interpret the words literally, is "dangerous."

"We believe in freedom of expression, and taking quotes from the bible is fine," Baumann said. "But then he said the words should be applied to real life, which is the equivalent of calling for the death penalty for gay people. We were worried about that. He is the leader of a big church, and he was calling for people to follow his words, and we thought this could be dangerous."

Huonder has since issued an apology, saying his comments were misunderstood. "I am sorry if my 50 minute lecture in Fulda on 2 August 2015, which dealt with the biblical basis for marriage and family, was understood as diminishing homosexual people," his statement reads. "This was not my intention. During the lecture I quoted several uncomfortable passages from the Old Testament to do with marriage, sexuality and family. I want to clarify that I... would in no way wish to diminish homosexual people." It's not clear why Huonder references a different date of the speech to the one in the Pink Cross statement.

Baumann says the group does not accept the bishop's apology. "There is no question in this case of what he was talking about—there was no misunderstanding. We don't need charity or mercy from the Church at all, we don't accept his apology."

It is not the first time Huonder's comments have landed him in trouble. Earlier this year he called for a priest in Switzerland to be sacked for blessing a lesbian couple, according to the UK-based online newspaper Pink News.