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Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny

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March 18, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium is “angry.” He used the word in an interview after an op-ed he published in the Flemish daily Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday, when he slammed the recent document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stating that homosexual couples cannot receive a blessing from the Church.

The progressive bishop, who went on record in 2016 saying that homosexual couples, divorced and remarried couples as well as cohabitating couples should be given some sort of blessing that would recognize the “exclusiveness and stability” of their unions, was at the time presented as a “thought experiment” by the Belgian media, which fawned over Bonny’s book (May I? Thank you. Sorry).

This statement and others promoting the endorsement of gay unions by the Church or scrapping the moral exigencies of Humanae Vitae did not prevent Bonny from being approved to attend the Synod on the Family in 2015 as the representative of the Belgian episcopate. His heterodoxy has not led to his replacement at the head of the Diocese of Antwerp and his regular dissent from certain traditional Church teachings has brought additional attention to his public statement.

But now his “anger” has led him a step forward: Bishop Bonny did not express himself as a disappointed individual but as the spokesman of the Synod on the Family, insisting that the Synod Fathers would certainly not have stood behind the text published last Monday by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His op-ed even opened with a description of Bonny’s participation at the Synod, presenting him as a sort of accepted representative of the Synod’s official thoughts on marriage and gay couples.

He wrote:

“This week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded negatively to the question of whether priests may bless same-sex unions. How do I feel after the ‘responsum?’ Bad. I feel vicarious shame for my Church (…). And I especially feel intellectual and moral incomprehension. I want to apologize to all those for whom this ‘responsum’ is hurtful and incomprehensible: believing gay couples who are active in the Catholic Church, parents and grandparents of gay couples and their children, pastoral staff and counselors of gay couples. Their pain over the Church is mine today.”

Bonny bluntly attacked the CDF, writing, “The present responsum lacks the pastoral care, the scholarly grounding, the theological nuance, and the ethical rigor that were present amongst the synod fathers who then approved its final conclusions.”

In multiple interviews given to the Belgian press on Thursday, Bonny doubled down on his attacks. Speaking with Het Laatste Nieuws, he deplored that the Roman document should have used the word “sin” in relation with homosexuals – neither he nor his interviewer took the trouble to explain that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carefully distinguished between sin and the sinner, the latter being always loved by God, who wants repentance and love to lead souls to the bliss of eternal life in heaven.

He said:

“I read this last Monday. I was very disappointed, very angry, and this for many reasons. Regarding the concept of sin: I was at the 2015 synod on the family. The important thing there was that they were trying to avoid any discussion around the word sin because it's such a difficult concept to handle. You don't so easily commit a sin even when you want to. You have to take into account who is who, how was that particular person born, what kind of relationship can he or she have, what is the degree of care and permanence of a relationship, what it its degree of openness to children, to societh-y, what kind of responsibility do these people take on. It is not possible to hold on to one aspect of life in order to hang the label ‘sin’ on everything. The great classical moral theology is always much more careful and nuanced in this regard. What disappoints me is the defective theological quality of the people in this Roman department.”

Speaking of openness to children in all types of couples, including essentially infertile same-sex couples, Bonny tacitly approved adoption for same-sex couples and also (if you are prepared to push the reasoning to its logical conclusion) saying yes to various kinds of “assisted procreation” such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

In another interview earlier in the day, Bishop Bonny added that the Church’s reasoning doesn’t even reach the level of ninth-grade secondary school.

Bonny wrote in his op-ed:

“The present responsum lacks the pastoral care, the scholarly grounding, the theological nuance, and the ethical rigor that were present amongst the synod fathers who then approved its final conclusions. Here, a different procedure of decision-making and policy-making is at work. As an example, I would like to mention just three sections. First, the paragraph that says that in God's plan there is no possible resemblance or even analogy between heterosexual and same-sex marriage. I myself know gay couples, civilly married, with children, who form a warm and stable family, and moreover participate actively in parish life. A few of them are active full time as pastoral or church workers. I am particularly grateful to them. Who has any interest in denying that there is no resemblance or analogy here to heterosexual marriage? At the synod, the factual falsity of that statement was repeatedly pointed out.”

He went on to call once more on the authority of the discussions during the Synod on the Family in order to discredit the CDF’s answer, even though it was appoved by the Pope:

“Next, the concept of sin. The final paragraphs bring out the heaviest moral weaponry. The logic is clear: God cannot approve of sin; gay couples live together in sin; therefore, the Church cannot bless their relationship. This is precisely the language that the Synod Fathers did not want to use, both in this and in other cases labelled with the category 'irregular' situations. That is not the language of Amoris laetitia, the papal apostolic letter of 2016.

“‘Sin’ is one of the most difficult theological and moral categories to define, and thus one of the last to be tacked onto individuals and their ways of living together. And definitely not on general categories of persons. What people want and are able to do, at this so very personal moment of their lives, with the best intentions they have for themselves and for others, face to face with the God they love and who loves them, is no easy conundrum. Besides, classical Catholic moral theology has never dealt with these questions so straightforwardly. O tempora, o mores!”

Is sin really so difficult to define, and its consequences so unbearable that the whole thing should be wrapped up behind the “positive elements” of practical and institutionalized gay unions? The viewpoint is a strange one for a prelate who is supposed to know about moral theology. But, to date, nothing has curbed his heterodox statements.

Talking about liturgy, seen from the lens of a special blessing for same-sex couples, Bonny said:

“Finally, the concept of liturgy. This embarrasses me even more as a bishop and theologian. Gay couples are unworthy to participate in a liturgical prayer about their relationship, or to receive a liturgical blessing over their relationship. From what ideological backrooms did that statement about the ‘truth of the liturgical rite’ come?

“Again, that was clearly not the dynamic of the synod. Repeatedly there was discussion about appropriate rituals and gestures to include gay couples, even in the liturgical realm. Of course, this would be with respect for the theological and pastoral distinction between a sacramental marriage and the blessing of a relationship. The majority of synod fathers did not opt for a liturgical black-and-white approach or for an all-or-nothing model. On the contrary, the synod gave impulses wisely to seek intermediate forms that do justice both to the uniqueness of these persons and to the uniqueness of their relationship.”

Having once more invoked the Synod as the authority behind his words, even though neither the Final Document nor Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation openly suggested any such thing, Bishop Bonny added in his op-ed:

“Liturgy is the liturgy of God's people and to that people, the said gay couples belong. Moreover, it sounds disrespectful to approach the question of a possible blessing of gay couples from the so-called ‘sacramentals’ or the ‘Order of Service for Blessings,’ where the blessing of animals, cars and buildings is also provided for. A respectful approach to same-sex marriage can only take place in the broader context of the ‘Order of Service for Marriage,’ as a possible variant on the topic of marriage and family life, with an honest recognition of both the actual similarities and differences. God has never been miserly or pedantic with His blessing on people. He is our Father. That was the theological and moral mindset of most synod fathers.”
So now we need to “respect” same-sex unions and even same-sex “marriage.”

Bishop Bonny concluded his text with the words:

“In short, I do not find in the present responsum the substantive lines of force – as I experienced them – of the 2015 Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family. This is unfortunate for faithful gay couples, their families and friends. They feel the Church is not treating them fairly or truthfully. Reaction is already building up.

“It is also a pity for the Church. This responsum is not an example of how we can walk a path together. The document undermines the credibility of both the ‘synodal path’ advocated by Pope Francis and the announced year of work with Amoris Laetitia. Will the real synod please stand up?”

In his interview with Het Laatste Nieuws, Bonny explained why, in the interviewer’s words, the Church’s approach has changed and “become so extreme.”

Bonny’s answered:

“I think, and I can understand it, that the Vatican is under the influence of ideological groups. There are two main lines: on the ideological level, there are the left and the right, those who are more open and those who are more conservative; this is one of the main lines of division with a balance of power. The other is between the continents, and this is something I can well understand. In Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, people think differently on these subjects than we do, that's how it is. Okay, we have to respect them, but then they also have to respect us. It is not possible that in a family one is totally right and the other totally wrong. Just as every grandfather or grandmother tries to hold together all that is best in his or her family, it is the duty of Rome to do the same in the community of the Catholic Church. I understand that they may find themselves under pressure from ideological groups and continental groups, but it is up to them to hold together harmoniously the part of truth and reason that is present in everyone.”

A real charter for relativism

At the close of his interview, asked about the role of homosexuals in the Church, Bishop Bonny pleaded for a “positive chance” for them and a chance to be assessed on the qualities sought for any candidate for a paid position in the Church.

Asked whether the Church can have openly homosexual priests or same-sex “marriage” in church, Bonny chose prudence. But he still refused to say a clear-cut “no?”

“The question of such a marriage is an open question. In what I have said or written, I have never stated that it should be possible to give them the sacrament of marriage. I understand that there are still too many other questions on this subject, but at the very least, as we do, we should create a space for a prayer service, for a non-sacramental blessing. We have many non-sacramental services; for example, Sunday celebrations that are not Eucharist, we have those as well. So looking for a variation on the theme: prayer, blessing, for places where love, care, responsibility, from a faith perspective – we speak as a Church – are present.”

This sounds more like “no, not yet” than a plain rejection of what cannot be: a blessing of the union of two people of the same sex. Even when he appears to defend an age-old Church doctrine, Bonny speaks with enough reservations to know where his heart lies.

Apparently, Vatican authorities don’t care.

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Jeanne Smits has worked as a journalist in France since 1987 after obtaining a Master of Arts in Law. She formerly directed the French daily Présent and was editor-in-chief of an all-internet French-speaking news site called She writes regularly for a number of Catholic journals (Monde & vie, L’Homme nouveau, Reconquête…) and runs a personal pro-life blog. In addition, she is often invited to radio and TV shows on alternative media. She is vice-president of the Christian and French defense association “AGRIF.” She is the French translator of The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire and Christus Vincit by Bishop Schneider, and recently contributed to the Bref examen critique de la communion dans la main about Communion in the hand. She is married and has three children, and lives near Paris.