A Belgian Catholic bishop is pressing for the Catholic Church to change its official position challenging same-sex relationships, the National Catholic Reporter reported in its English coverage of a Belgium newspaper. Speaking to the Belgium newspaper De Morgen, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium said that the church should evolve to be inclusive of a “diversity of forms” for contemporary believers, a nod to Pope Francis’ comments encouraging the church to move away from social issues, like gay marriage, birth control, and abortion.
“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms,” Bonny said in the De Morgen interview published December 27, strongly advocating for gay and lesbian couples to receive the same recognition as people in ecclesiastical marriages, though perhaps stopping short of allowing the Catholic Church to perform same-sex marriages.
He said, “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. … 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.”
Bonny added that man-woman relationships are special in the Christian tradition, but that “this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the church can acknowledge.”
“Indeed, we need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples,” he said. “Does that recognition have to be a sacramental marriage? Perhaps the church could much better reflect on a diversity of forms of relationships. One has the same kind of discussion about civil marriages. In Belgium the same model (for civil marriages) exists for man-woman relations as well as for same-sex relations.”
Particularly noteworthy in Bonny’s statement was his request for the Catholic Church to find “inner qualities the church can acknowledge,” echoing a preliminary document issued by a group of Cardinals, known as a Synod, suggesting that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” The final report ultimately dropped the language, opting instead to state that gays should be met with “respect and sensitivity.” And ahead of October’s Episcopal Synod of the Bishops, Bonny wrote a letter to the Vatican, noting that believers were no longer able to agree with “the dogmatic texts and moral statements coming from Rome” on topics like “sexual, family-related, and bio-ethical issues.”
Church doctrine states that “unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” policy that Pope Francis has not budged on. However, Francis expressed an openness for gay men to become priests in 2013, stating at the time, “who am I to judge if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” The pope has also asked American bishops to survey their dioceses to find out how American Catholics feel about same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception. Francis also appeared to support civil unions to provide non-traditional couples with access to benefits.
Though many Catholic officials condemn same-sex marriage on the grounds that marriage is defined by “the potential to bring forth human life,” a 2013 poll found that 62 percent of American Catholics support same-sex marriage. Other polls show that Catholic laypeople are disproportionately in favor of LGBT rights compared to many other global religious groups, ThinkProgress reported.