WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — A spokesman for the Swiss bishops’ conference defended its newly elected president, Bishop Markus Buchel of Sankt Gallen, after he called for local bishops to have a greater say on Church reforms.

“Bishop Buchel has his colleagues’ confidence and his election has nothing to do with his views on such issues,” said Walter Muller, the conference’s information officer.

“Each bishop is responsible for Church teaching and pastoral work, and this applies to issues such as lay preaching and communion for remarried divorcees. The bishops’ conference has no competence of its own in these domains,” he said.

Muller’s comments came after Bishop Buchel suggested during a news conference Sept. 6 after his election that while he agreed with Church teaching, it would be “pragmatic” to consider allowing lay people to preach and remarried Catholics to receive communion.

In a Sept. 13 interview with Catholic News Service, Muller said that Bishop Buchel’s statements had been “simplified” and dismissed claims he also held liberal views on issues such as women priests.

“Bishop Buchel has never supported demands for the ordination of women. He’s simply explained that women’s access to the diaconate could be a step toward women priests if one wanted to go that way,” said Muller.

In a Sept. 9 interview with Switzerland’s Neue Zurcher Zeitung daily, the bishop said clergy should follow Church teaching on controversial issues, but added that it was “an area of conflict” as to how teaching “should be implemented in pastoral practice.”

“There are fundamental differences between dioceses as to how the Church should react to developments in society,” Bishop Buchel explained “and over whether we should see increasing secularization negatively and therefore follow a draconian course, or adopt a neutral stance towards social developments and see pragmatically if we can make the best of it as a Church.”

In a separate interview with the Tagblatt daily Sept. 7, Bishop Buchel said he feared a division in the Church on issues such as the role of women and obligatory celibacy, and hoped they would be debated at the October Synod of Bishops on new evangelization.

He added that he had sought to avoid “dogmatic and fundamentalist thinking” over “who is Catholic and who is not,” and said it was “up to individual bishops as to how they implement a decision.”

“Everyone holds his office by divine right, so he’s ultimately responsible only to God and conscience,” the bishop said.

“By nature, I’m a person who doesn’t suffer from things he cannot change. But that doesn’t not stop me hoping some things may change.”

Ordained in 1976, Bishop Buchel was elected to succeed Bishop Norbert Brunner of Sion as conference president for three years starting Jan. 1.