The bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, gave an interview to the Belgian daily De Morgen on December 27, in which he suggested that the Catholic Church should find a way to “recognize” the relationship that exists between “holebi” couples, holebi being the Dutch acronym for “homosexual, lesbian and bisexual” persons.
“Inside the Church, we must look for a formal recognition of the relational dimension that is also present in many ‘holebi’ couples. In the same way that in society there exists a diversity of legal frameworks for partners, there must be a diversity of forms of recognition in the Church,” he said.
“The values contained (in these relationships) are more important to me than the institutional question. Christian ethics are grounded in durable relationships where exclusiveness, fidelity and mutual care have the central role,” he said. “Next to that, there is also openness to new life, or at least the responsibility which partners accept to be generous as to what will be transmitted to children”, Bonny added, prompting a commentary on the part of De Morgen’s journalists: “With this subtle expression Mgr Bonny is questioning the Catholic man-woman monopoly in child-rearing.”
The Belgian pro-LGBT website holebi.info was quick to translate Bishop Bonny’s declaration as a plea for “full acceptance” of homosexual persons, repeating with De Morgen that the bishop declared that a “holebi-relationship can conform just as well to the criteria of a church wedding.” Other gay sites picked up the information as a revolutionary but welcome piece of news.
While the bishop’s declarations are deeply disturbing as regards Catholic doctrine, they do not go quite as far as the media suggest. The spokesman of the diocese of Antwerp told LifeSiteNews that Bishop Bonny never asked for a sacramental recognition of homosexual partnerships, nor for a “benediction” of those unions as De Morgen had announced.
“Mgr Bonny’s answers that appear within quotation marks are correct: they are the words he used,” the spokeman said. De Morgen added titles, subtitles, and commentary suggesting that Mgr Bonny wanted “Church recognition of ‘holebis’” and “a Church benediction” for those couples: these are words that the bishop did not use, said the spokesman. The idea that homosexual partnerships can “conform to the criteria of a Church wedding” was also added by De Morgen’s journalists, he told me.
So much for sensationalism. Obviously, the bishop’s declarations are something the media and LGBT activists have been waiting for and are prepared to pull even more in the direction of normalization of homosexual conduct. All the same, Bonny’s statements do go a long way in favoring new attitudes towards homosexual couples on the part of the Church, even if “recognition” is to be understood as different from a Church benediction, sacramental or otherwise.
The spokesman of the diocese told me that the bishop wants a “pastoral approach.” “He does not want to act as if these people do not exist,” he said. The bishop is clearly acting according to Pope Francis’ guidelines, he added, noting he wants to go out to people who for different reasons have moved away from the Church, who are “lying wounded along the road.” “Mgr Bonny wants to be the bishop of all, in his diocese, the shepherd of all,” in the way lined out by the Pope in Evangelii Gaudium, said the spokesman.
He repeated these statements when I asked him whether Bishop Bonny did not appear to be moving away from Church doctrine, saying the bishop’s declarations must be received in the light of the document he published in September, prior to the Synod on the Family. That 25-page text, which was published in English on the Diocese of Antwerp’s website, markedly drifts away from traditional Church teaching on many marriage and family-related issues.
Pleading for more “collegiality,” “graduality,” and openness to the faithful’s sense of the faith (sensus fidei), Bonny argues that the Church is out of touch with the world of today and should be careful to keep its doors open to people who now live in another context. He regrets that contrary to the hopes of the Vatican Council fathers, many new issues were “polarized,” and hopes Humanae vitae will recede somewhat. “What do I expect from the forthcoming Synod? That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes,” he writes.
Contrary to a number of bishops who, in line with Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion to give Communion to “remarried divorcees,” argue that doctrine should not be changed and that the move would be purely “pastoral,” Bonny wrote in September:
In these last months of preparation for the Synod, I have heard or read the following on numerous occasions: ‘Agreed that the Synod should support greater pastoral flexibility, but it will not be able to touch Church doctrine.’ Some create the impression that the Synod will only be free to speak about the applicability of the Church’s teaching and not about its content. In my opinion, however such an antithesis between ‘pastoral care’ and ‘doctrine’ is inappropriate in both theological and pastoral terms and it has no foundation in the tradition of the Church. Pastoral care has everything to do with doctrine and doctrine everything to do with pastoral care. Both will have to be dealt with during the Synod if the Church wants to open new avenues towards the evangelization of marriage and family life in today’s society.
The essential link between doctrine and pastoral care is not something that can be denied. It is not surprising, it is in fact perfectly rational from his point of view that Mgr Bonny should be suggesting that the “true” teaching of the Church requires more respect for individual conscience without insisting that conscience be illuminated by truth. He also questions the universal validity of “natural law,” which he portrays as movable and changing, and contends that the link between the sacraments of marriage and the Eucharist does not suppose that the indissolubility of marriage should be “compared directly” with the indissolubility of the bond between Christ and his Church, because “even the most beautiful reflection of Christ’s love is characterized by human limitation and sinfulness.”
Bonny’s text reads, in fact, in exactly the same way as the controversial points of the Synod on the Family on remarried divorcees, homosexual couples, and non-marital unions: in the name of Jesus’ openness and mercy, all must be accepted and helped along their way to full acceptance of his moral demands, and that a harsh proclamation of the doctrine does not conform to what the Church should teach.
De Morgen sees in Bonny the successor to the traditionally-minded archbishop of Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, who is due to retire this year and who, though in a diocese normally headed by a cardinal, has been passed by in the latest consistories. If Bishop Johan Bonny receives such a promotion, it will be an official recognition of the most liberal standpoints that are being touted within the Church.