Well known for his conservative stance, Vitus Huonder was speaking at a debate on marriage and family organized by the German Catholic Forum in Fulda, Germany, on Friday when he cited Leviticus 20:13, reported Swiss media including Le Temps.
The passage, as written in the new international version of the Old Testament, says that men engaging in homosexual acts “are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”.
Contacted by Le Temps, Norbert Blech, editor of German website queer.de, who was following the discourse, expressed his shock over the Bishop’s use of the passage, which he said is “highly unusual” in Germany.
According to Blech, Bishop Huonder said the passages he quoted were enough to “guide the question of homosexuality in the right direction from the point of view of faith”, an opinion that garnered applause from the mostly traditionalist audience.
Swiss gay rights organization Pink Cross said it was “shocked and angry” and demanded an apology from the Bishop.
In a statement on its website, Pink Cross director Bastian Baumann said: “A representative of the church does not operate in a legal vacuum. He who argues, even indirectly, that homosexuals should be put to death, is not acting like a man of the church but like an agitator.”
Demanding a public apology from the Bishop of Chur, the organization implored the congregation “to not tolerate incitement to hatred or death”.
Swiss LGBT magazine 360.ch underlined the incident’s “unfortunate” timing given a homophobic attack on Gay Pride in Jerusalem the previous day.
“It was in the name of these same Bible passages that a Jewish extremist stabbed six people”, the magazine's editors said.
Meanwhile, commenters on 360.ch reacted in anger to the Bishop’s stance.
“I don’t understand why Pope Francis lets this so-called ‘man of God’ preach such insane things. Do people still not understand what happened during the Second World War?” said one reader, who gave her name as Dominique.
Priscilla.b commented: “I am surprised that paedophilia in the church creates less controversy than homosexuality.”
“This man is ignorant and irresponsible,” added commenter TILT. “It’s sad to hear such stupid things. We are still living in the Middle Ages and ignorance with men like these.”
It’s not the first time Bishop Huonder has caused outrage over his ultra-conservative comments.
In March, the bishop of the eastern Swiss city made reference to a similar passage from Leviticus which calls homosexuality an “abomination” during a sermon given to young priests of his diocese.
And in February he called for a Swiss priest who had blessed the union of a lesbian couple to step down, saying his actions contravened Catholic doctrine.
Back in 2011 Huonder argued that parents should have the right to exempt their children from sex education in schools, saying that such classes “destroy the natural protection of a person’s sexuality, namely the sense of shame”, The Local reported at the time.
View Bishop Huonder’s speech at the congress here (in German).