Belgian bishop claims hundreds of people in his diocese have left the Church over CDF refusal to bless gay unions

Bishop Johan Bonny of the diocese of Antwerp made the claim during a recent online debate hosted by The Tablet under the title 'All God’s Children – a discussion about the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics and same-sex couples.'
Thu May 6, 2021 - 11:21 am EST
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Bishop Johan Bonny Bisdom Antwerpen / YouTube

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May 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp stated at the end of April that 700 people of his diocese have left the Catholic Church in protest against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) recent Responsum making clear that same-sex unions cannot be blessed in any way. 

Bonny added that some 2,000 more have cancelled their baptismal registrations – as if the permanent character of Baptism could be erased. Bonny himself has slammed the recent CDF statement as a “hurtful and incomprehensible” decision, and said that he felt “vicarious shame” over the exclusion of LGBT couples.

It was surely Bonny’s written op-ed attacking the CDF’s statement that earned him a seat at the recent online debate hosted by the  The Tablet under the title “All God’s Children – a discussion about the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics and same-sex couples.”

There was in fact not a great deal of discussion during the event, as all the four chosen participants who “debated” under the watchful eye of Christopher Lamb were more or less agreed in their opposition to the Responsum of the CDF. It was there that Bonny went public about the hemorrhage of faithful who he said had been shocked by the statement. He was described as follows: “Bishop Bonny is a theologian who has worked in the Christian unity office in the Vatican. He attended the family synods in Rome and has called for the Church to offer blessings to same-sex couples.”

He was joined by Professor Lisa Cahill, who is openly pro-abortion and who co-signed a pro-LGBT document by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research that asked for a new “Magisterial Document” to “revoke the absolute condemnation of free, faithful, and lifelong non-heterosexual relationships, and set out the criteria for their moral evaluation, pastoral accompaniment, and liturgical celebration.” Also on the panel was theologian and spiritual director Sr. Gemma Simmonds, of the Congregation of Jesus who decries the “past official church” and the “very generic judgments and statements that alienate so many women.” Lastly, a self-described homosexual priest, Father James Alison gave his point of view as one who has widely and sympathetically written about “LGBT issues.”

The Tablet clearly had an axe to grind and its choice of “debaters” showed that the webinar was more of a propaganda operation than anything else.

The departure of some 2,700 Catholics – “mainly straight people” according to Johan Bonny – who left the Church within two weeks of the Responsum was touted as a sort of proof that the Church has lost touch with the faithful and is blocked in a pattern of exclusion both in defining homosexual tendencies as “disordered” and homosexual acts as sinful.

During The Tablet’s webinar, Bonny called the wave of protest on behalf of blessing same-sex unions a “dramatic” backlash against the “step too far” taken by the CDF and slammed the Responsum’s “theological weakness.”

“It’s as if it was written in the time of Pius XII,” he complained. 

Bonny insisted that the CDF should be “at the top of biblical and theological scholarship, and not behind an ordinary level of quality,” and that its document “failed to take into account what the human sciences are saying about sexuality and developments in civil society, as many countries have legalized marriage or civil partnership for LGBT couples and this was now part of the experience of many Catholic families.” 

According to Bonny, the CDF is “not in tune with Amoris Laetitia at all.” His own interpretation of the Apostolic Exhortation and his own experience of the Synods on the Family led him to tell the panel that it is “not true” to say that “there are no possible similarities or analogies” between marriage and same-sex unions. 

“What we propose here is not to extend sacramental marriage,” he claimed. 

“There are different ways of loving and taking care of one another and taking up your responsibility in the Church and in society. So not all should be the same, there are differences. But there are so many possibilities that are coming from the Scripture and from the tradition of the Church, to walk together with people, to bring it before God and to ask God’s blessing on it,” Bonny continued.

“It’s not a question of sacramental marriage or nothing.”

Professor Lisa Cahill agreed, opposing the CDF’s statement, and saying that it “seemed like an irrelevant backlash and even regression, particularly in light of Amoris Laetitia, which says very strongly that even people in so-called irregular family situations are still vehicles of sanctifying grace.” 

In its partial transcript of the “debate,” The Tablet also quoted Sister Gemma Simmonds saying that she was disappointed by the CDF Responsum “because it is so much in contradiction to what Pope Francis himself said, and his whole pastoral approach to the issue of same sex attraction.” 

“I looked in the document for some element of a pastoral understanding or for the Church’s pastoral mission and I found none,” Simmonds said. “I wondered what had happened to our understanding that God is love. And anyone who lives in love, lives in God, and God lives in them. That seemed to be entirely absent from the document.”

As for Father James Alison, he applauded Father James Martin, of “bridge-building” fame, for having asked that the Catechism of the Catholic Church should replace the words “objectively disordered” about same-sex attraction by the terms “differently ordered.”

“The question is, what are the moral consequences? If you say people are differently ordered, in that case, then their acts would be good or bad according to circumstances, rather than intrinsically bad. And I think that means conceding effectively what the CDF has denied since 1975, which is that the same sex orientation is a positive thing. They have chosen to define it rigorously as a negative thing, in order to preserve the intrinsic evil of the act,” Alison commented.

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Professor Cahill said that even this would amount to “tying everyone down into very careful definitions, so we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them.” 

“I see Amoris Laetitia as doing something really different,” Cahill said.

Should the Catechism be modified? Bishop Bonny thinks it can and should be. “It was written 30 years ago and there are areas, like the one we are discussing, in which society, culture, moral theology developed fast and radically in the last 20-30 years,” Bonny said. “The Catechism is not of divine right, it can be changed by the Pope. Pope Benedict changed some paragraphs in the Catechism. (…) The Catechism is a book that is open to historicity and progress. I think there are paragraphs, which in a collegial way, could be changed for the best of the Church and for the best of our pastoral work we have to do.”

Here the operative words are “a collegial way.” An analysis published by Christopher Lamb in The Tablet after the webinar, suggested that the acceptance of same-sex couples by the Church would only be one instance of what should be done to “retrieve the flock who are leaving.” The question, he wrote, “raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the ‘Catholicity’ of the Church differently.”

This requires “synodality,” said Lamb, echoing the deep-rooted idea that is being pushed forward throughout Francis’s pontificate. Indeed this so much so that both the Youth Synod and the Amazon Synod were very plainly primarily about bringing about change by collegiality and synodal decisions, in much the same way that the German “synodal path” is confusing the teachings on the realities of marriage, priesthood, women’s place in the Church and so on.

“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” Bonny said. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions, since the questions are not the same.” In other words, a fluctuating faith and an elastic morality that would adapt to conditions of time and place.

Bonny also pleaded for a “family” approach on the part of the Church, which would mean rejecting no-one because “if the Church is a family, then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.”

In the same vein, he suggested that same-sex couples should receive visits from their local bishop, advising gay Catholics to invite (their) bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. “It will be a conversion for him,” he said.

A conversion? To what? The new pro-LGBT creed?

  christopher lamb, crisis in the catholic church, johan bonny, the tablet

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