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Belgian bishop says Catholic Church should bless same-sex couples

(RNS) A Belgian bishop who has been touted as a future leader of that country’s Catholic hierarchy is making waves by urging the church to find ways to recognize gay relationships in which “exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.”

Then Monsignor Johan Bonny in 20098.

Photo courtesy of Carolus, via Wikimedia Commons

Then-Monsignor Johan Bonny in 2008.

“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms,” Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said in an interview in late December with a Flemish-language newspaper.

“We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church.”

Bonny did not spell out exactly what sort of rite he had in mind for sanctifying same-sex relationships, but he made it clear he thought the church needed to explore the issue as part of a shift to a much more welcoming approach to gays and lesbians.

“The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks by the National Catholic Reporter.

“Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage,” he said.

Gay and lesbian Catholic activists responded enthusiastically to Bonny’s statements, which have continued to attract attention and — not surprisingly — criticism.

“Excellency, what you propose is not Catholic,” the Flemish Catholic Student Association wrote in an open letter quoted by The Tablet of London. “The rules of morality apply universally to every Catholic, everywhere and always.”

What’s not clear is how this controversy will play out in the new dynamic of church reform that Pope Francis has pushed since he was elected nearly two years ago.

Bonny has a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, and he sent a long letter to Francis ahead of a major Vatican summit on family issues in October in which he urged the church to adapt its  policies to be more inclusive of gays and of divorced and remarried Catholics.

Bonny has been tabbed as a possible successor to Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels, head of the Belgian hierarchy and a vocal conservative who is set to retire in May when he turns 75.

“Do not underestimate the significance of this,” Rik Torfs, a canon law expert and rector of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, told NCR. “Bonny advocates a change from principles long held as unshakable, something no bishop could have done under the dogmatic pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author and commentator at America magazine, also noted that Bonny’s comments reflect a wider debate going on within the highest levels of the Catholic Church about how to minister to gay Catholics.

“So we shouldn’t overemphasize what Bishop Bonny is saying: after all, he’s only one bishop,” Martin told the Huffington Post. “On the other hand, we shouldn’t underemphasize it either: it’s quite revolutionary.”

How the church responds to LGBT Catholics is taking on more importance in places such as Belgium, which allows civil marriage for same-sex couples, and in Florida, which on Tuesday became the 36th state in the U.S. to allow it. While Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski warned employees not to signal any support for gay marriage either on or off the clock, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg took a different tone.

“I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society,” he wrote in a column for the Tampa Bay Times.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

27 Comments

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  • Another religion that does not follow the teachings of God and of his son, Jesus, from God’s Word, the Bible. False religion is definitely being exposed in the last days of this wicked era.

  • One bishop out of 3,000 does not make the Catholic Church a false religion. Judas was one out of only 12. Can you do the math?

  • It is so exciting to see more Christian leaders coming out as allies to the LGBTQ+ community. Change will not happen unless more leaders begin voicing support & affirmation! God bless, Bishop Bonny 🙂

  • Wlllnat,

    Whether or not the Church decides to bless same-sex marriage worldwide remains to be seen; if, in fact, it did so, I would not be surprised as all.

    However, the Church continues to teach doctrines which have no basis on God’s Word, the Bible, such as the Trinity and hellfire doctrines, as well as that all good people go to heaven after they die.

    It also does not preach the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government as the only hope for humans on earth, as Jesus did (Matthew 4:17) and his followers, even today, should be doing (Matthew 24:14).

    Instead, it chooses to get involved in politics and wars, which Jesus, his disciples and apostles, and the first-century Christians never did.

  • I think what the reporter meant to say is that Bishop Bonny USED TO BE a possible successor to Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels.

  • Also, you obviously do not know or understand Catholic teaching. You have been deceived by your “governing body”.

    Catholicism teaches that people who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity to hear the gospel or be baptized but lived virtuous lives as best they could MAY POSSIBLY, through the infinite merits of the atonement of Christ, gain salvation. Even St. Paul teaches this.

    Our God, unlike yours, is not cruel and hateful.

  • Under Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict, that would have been instantly true.

    Unfortunately, Pope Francis is in charge. Kindred spirits, as it were?

  • People who “never had the opportunity to hear the gospel or be baptized but lived virtuous lives as best they could MAY POSSIBLY, through the infinite merits of the atonement of Christ, gain salvation.’

    Teehee.

    Or they may just burn in hell forever, writhing in torture and misery, separated form god forever, because God didn’t think they were worthy of enough love to make sure that they got the message. Hey, it wasn’t HIS fault. He sent it to:

    THE ENTIRE WORLD
    c/o General delivery,
    Jerusalem, Israel 4BC33AD.

    It’s not his fault if they just didn’t pick it up.

  • Go on all of you great Catholic leaders. Support the gays and everything they stand for. Then support the Middle East as they say to eradicate Jews. Then join ranks with the ACLU and their agendas. Excuse me for my stupidity but I thought God and Jesus taught us to love the sinner and “HATE” the sin, but then I guess the Catholics have a different set of rules to go by besides the Bible. Does the phrase “whore of Babylon” ring a bell with anyone. The older I get the more I believe that the core of Catholicism is geared more to Satan than God. I sure am glad that I am not Catholic and I really do feel sorry for all the people that have put their lives into the Church and are being told more and more everyday that Mammon is more prominent than God.

  • An Institutional Parasite?? You mean one who believes God is Love and loves his fellowman/woman?

    WOW… That might be why people are moving away from ALL Religions. It appears that Religious people work hard to destroy their fellows (anyone with different beliefs than themselves).

  • Fran: This bishop IS following the word of God. Not judging, putting love first and not picking and choosing in the bible just to justify his personal beliefs. A very Spiritual Man. Good for him.

  • Many Religions are finding that they have lost the true teachings of their religions. That hate & judgement, simply creates empty seats in their Churches. That the “New Christians” are not actually Christians.

  • @ Phillip Lake (and all) you are right in identifying “The Church” with “Babylon The Great” but it’s only a part of Babylon. Babylon The Great is a symbolic prostitute that symbolizes the worldwide empire of FALSE religion. FALSE religion is any religion that does NOT follow the Bible as TRUTH.
    @barbh545- You can’t “cherry pick” your favorite verses about “love, joy and peace” and forget the ones that CONDEMN bad (yes, BAD) behaviours. Like 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which states: 9 ”Or do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality, 10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners will not inherit God’s Kingdom. 11 And yet that is what some of you WERE…” That means that to be what the Bible defines as “Christian” the ones practicing these things had to QUIT DOING THEM. That’s what repentance is. Just because the current feeling in society and in many churches is starting to turn in favor of LGBTQ’s does not mean that God has changed his mind on the matter. (Malachi 3:6) TRUTH will save anyone who LISTENS and DOES what God requires. The blood of Jesus makes it possible for us to be forgiven but if we are going to come under that provision we MUST put away the old personality with it’s practices and put on the new. Quit living for SELF and live for the one who died for you.

  • Actually, Barb, your statement IS correct. Pope Francis is actually the first de-facto Gay Marriage Pope in Catholic history.

    Francis is currently doing everything he can to make the Gay Marriage Activists very happy (which means destroying his own Catholic Church on the installment plan.)

    But, if Francis should ever change his mind about destroying his own Church, maybe he could start by doing the right thing instead. Namely, excommunicating a certain no-good turn-coat Mr. Bonny RIGHT NOW!!

  • “means that to be what the Bible defines as “Christian” the ones practicing these things had to QUIT DOING THEM. That’s what repentance is. Just because the current feeling in society and in many churches is starting to turn in favor of LGBTQ’s does not mean that God has changed his mind on the matter. ”

    And just because a good portion of so called Christians say absolutely nothing about the so-called Christians who slander and revile gay people on a daily basis, telling lies for money and political power, does not mean that God has changed his mind on the subject of slander and reviling, either. But since it isn’t directed at you, but against people whom you despise, it doesn’t really matter.

    YOU haven’t changed YOUR mind on the matter, and presume to speak for god.

    And just because a good portion of so called Christians say absolutely nothing about the so-called Christians who are adulterers, divorced, and even, perhaps, fornicating– except for a resounding tsk-tsk when it comes to people like mark Sanford or Newt gingrich– does not mean that God has changed his mind on those subjects, either.

  • Ben, no one is condoning that kind of behaviour from Christians, and I do agree that many Christians do not show the love of Jesus when it comes to this matter, but there is not one place in the Bible where we are told to overlook peoples sins in an attempt not to offend them. Homosexuality, we are told in God’s Word, is wrong time and time again.

    Paul even openly corrected Peter, a brother in the faith, when he did wrong. He did not suppress the truth just to appease another man’s whim, rather than speaking the truth. Likewise, there is no place for Christians who keep silent when people wrongly claim to express views shown in the Bible.

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