By staff writers ‘Ekklesia’ – 1 Jan 2015
For the first time ever, a Catholic bishop has explicitly called for the Church to recognise and bless committed same-sex relationships.
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, made his comments in an interview with De Morgennewspaper on 27 December 2014.
He called for the Church to recognise the faithfulness and commitment of same-gender couples in the same way that it recognises the relationships of heterosexual couples.
A news story about the interview published in The National Catholic Reporter contained excerpts translated into English.
Bishop Bonny declared: “There should be recognition of a diversity of forms. 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.”
On whether the Church will eventually bless LGBT couples’ relationships, the bishop said: “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.… And we have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.”
Bishop Bonny’s statements are the first time a bishop has explicitly called for ecclesiastical recognition of same-gender couples, but it is not the first time that a bishop has shown support for such ideas, reports New Ways Ministry, a network seeking to build relations between LGBTI people and the Catholic Church.
In the 1990s, Bishop Jacques Gaillot of Evreux, France, was removed from his diocese, in part because he blessed a gay couple’s relationship, the group points out.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, has also called for the Church to revamp its sexual ethics in a more progressive way, and in a way which would open the possibility of recognising and blessing same-gender relationships.
“Many bishops and other church leaders have recently been calling for legal recognition of same-gender couples, though none has gone so far as to ask for recognition from the Church for these couples.”
Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry responded to the latest pronouncement: “Gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters will surely welcome Bishop Bonny’s call, as this call has been expressed for many decades now, though previous papacies have tried to silence it. It comes at a time when the entire Church is focused on the idea of marriage and family as we discuss these issues in this year between the synods.
“Bishop Bonny’s statements will have a profound effect on this discussion because he is raising an idea which has too long been suppressed, but which many in the Church have desired. He gives voice to a major segment of Catholicism which has previously been voiceless.
“Courage breeds courage. Let’s pray that other bishops will follow Bishop Bonny’s example and speak out for recognising the holiness in the committed relationships of lesbian and gay couples.”
* New Ways Ministry: https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/
This news, culled from the U.K. ‘Ekklesia’ web-site, of a Roman Catholic Bishop’s call for a form of Blessing for monogamous Same-Sex Couples, cannot be totally unexpected. There have been other Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church who have expressed similar overt support for a way of recognising faithful same-sex relationships within the Church community. Here is a significant quote from Bishop Johan Bonny’s statement to the Press:
” 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.”
Another quote from this article – refers to the fact that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia – “has also called for the Church to revamp its sexual ethics in a more progressive way, and in a way which would open the possibility of recognising and blessing same-gender relationships”.
With the progressive outlook of Pope Francis, titular head of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, such positive views towards the acceptance of same-sex couples in the Church may yet find a positive reaction from the Vatican authorities – even though, as yet, there has been no official statement made by the Pope on this important matter.
It may well be that in Rome’s desire to reserve the traditional Sacrament of Marriage for heterosexual couples, there could still be some accommodation made for a perceived need for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions – allowing for the recognition of the integrity of such unions as having a stabilising influence in the lives of same-sex couples.
Not only the Roman Catholic Church is concerned with the reality of Same-Sex Marriage being sanctioned by various state authorities; our own Anglican Churches around the world are also being drawn into the question of whether, or not, the Church considers faithful same-sex relationships to be of value – to the point where the Church could offer a Blessing on such relationships when they have been legally contracted by the state. This opening up of a Roman Catholic viewpoint on the issue could well affect churches outside of the papal jurisdiction.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand