Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp
May I? Thank You. Sorry
Excerpted from an article in National Catholic Reporter:
BISHOP Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, has called for ecclesiastical recognition of gay relationships, according to an interview published in , a Belgian newspaper, on Dec. 27, 2014. The official teaching that the Catholic church can recognize only male-female committed relationships has to change, Bonny said.
“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms,” 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 when he issued a letter to the Vatican in preparation for the Synod on the family in October. At that time, Bonny stressed that the church urgently needs to connect with contemporary society, showing more respect for homosexuality, divorced people and modern kinds of relationships.
“In his or her life,” he said, “everyone has to deal with relationships, friendship, family, and children’s education. We should not deny that dealing with these issues within the church has brought injuries and traumas. Too many people were excluded for a long time.”
Bonny said the open-minded spirit and pastoral focus of Pope Francis have given him the courage to speak out about issues that are important and pressing for today’s believers.
Will the church at some point give its blessing for gay and lesbian couples?
“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,” Bonny said. “… 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.”
Bonny stressed that the man-woman relationship has a special place in the Christian tradition.
“This relationship will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form,” Bonny said. “But 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.”
Later in his interview, Bonny stressed openness, the need for further reflection and the danger of getting wrapped up in a complex ideological discussion. He stressed as well that he is a strong advocate for recognizing a diversity of relationships that arise from serious reflection on practical pastoral realities.
BISHOP Bonny offers his thoughts in a book . . . published October 11 by Flemish editor Lannoo under the title May I? Thank you. Sorry, an obvious quote from Pope Francis’ frequent talks to married couples. [e.g. 2016_7-09_Krakow].
While Bonny offers an open dialogue about relationships, marriage and family, his most [controversial] proposals in the book have already been presented to the Dutch-speaking public by the Catholic Church’s official weekly in Flanders, Kerk & Leven. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Luc Vanmaercke, described the book as a response to the Pope’s call during the two Synods for the Church to take a more contemporary view of society.
The book is a presentation of conversations between Bishop Bonny and Belgian moral theologian Roger Burgraeve, who favors recognition of homosexual identity and unions, as well as Kerk & Leven journalist Ilse Van Halst.
[T]he book is promot[es] what amounts to formal recognition of unmarried, remarried, and even homosexual couples . . . Vanmaercke hailed the legalization of same-sex “marriage” by governments and parliaments as proof that they do not “consider marriage as an outdated institution, but as still having value, and in which they are prepared to invest … Good news for all those who appreciate marriage.”
“There is no way we can continue to claim that there can be no other forms of love than heterosexual marriage. We find the same kind of love between a man and woman who live together, in homo-pairs and lesbian couples,”
“The question is: Should we try to squeeze everything into one and the same model?” he asks elsewhere in the book. “Should we not evolve towards a diversity of rituals in which we can recognize the loving relationship between homosexuals, even from the perspective of the Church and of the faith?”
Bonny recognizes that same-sex couples cannot express the deeply symbolic link between sexual alterity and fruitfulness, which means, he explains, that they cannot attain a true sacramental union. But having said same-sex marriage cannot exist, he goes on to destroy the teaching of the Church on sexual morality by insisting that any type of “love relationship” can be intent on achieving an “exclusive and lasting relationship” that deserves recognition.
Bonny’s case, the link with the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia was made by the bishop himself in a filmed reaction on Flemish television, atv.be. Asked what he thought of the appeal made to Rome by Pro Familia, he answered:
Everyone is free to go where he wills. So are they. I would just like to invite them, before they step to Rome, to read what came from Rome, from the present Pope: Gaudium Evangelii – The Joy of the Gospel – and Amoris Laetitia. It might be more useful to read those beforehand, and to leave off going to Rome until then.
He went on to comment:
“So many new variations on the theme ‘relations and marriage’ have appeared, before a person steps into a civil or a Church wedding. … There are also stories of blended couples and families as well as the question, in our society, of homo-couples. How can we deal with that diversity in such a way that it is respectful for every person, so that all those who want to be Christians today and who want to be together with the Church can find a spot within the Church community in their personal situation?”
N.B. As of August, 2017 regarding the question of Catholic accommodation to secular ethics: The Brothers of Charity of Belgium are attempting to resist government pressure to allow euthanasia in their psychiatric facilities. Bishop Bonny believes that the Brothers may need to accede to government requirements in permitting euthanasia of mentally-ill persons:
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