Roman Catholic bishops from Belgium’s Flanders region issued a document on Tuesday permitting the blessing of same-sex unions – in direct contrast with the Vatican’s ruling on the matter.
The document was published on the Bishops’ Conference of Belgium website, and listed a ritual which would include a prayer and a final “benediction” in front of couples’ family and friends.
It emphasised that while such blessings did not alter the Catholic doctrine on “sacramental marriage,” the move would allow the Church to be “pastorally close to homosexual persons” and a “welcoming [place] that excludes no one.”
A gay Catholic, Willy Bombeek, has also been appointed as an additional staff member for pastoral care of families to oversee the treatment of fellow LGBTQ+ Catholics.
No response has yet been issued by the Holy See’s press office.
The Catholic Church’s position on same-sex unions was addressed in March 2021, with the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) ruling against their blessing – a stance that was sharply condemned by the Bishop of Antwerp.
The Holy See described such a position claiming that it was “not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite” of the sacrament of marriage and the blessing associated with it.
Pope Francis himself has displayed more openness towards the LGBTQ+ community than his predecessors.
In July 2013, a mere months after his election as Pope, he had said that he was in no position to “judge” gay people who “[seek] God and have good will.”
He has also previously supported same-sex civil unions and has stated that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.”
Nevertheless, Francis maintains Catholic teaching on homosexuality, which sees gay sexual relationships as sinful and does not condone same-sex marriage.
The Flemish bishops have affirmed that their decision to allow the blessing of same-sex unions is not intended as an act of resistance against the Vatican.
“This is first and foremost a positive message,” the bishops’ spokesman, Geert de Kerpel, told Reuters.
The move has also been supported across the pond, with Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of US-based Catholic LGBTQ+ group New Ways Ministry, approving of the decision.
“These prelates recognise that love is love. Love is more important than sexual behaviour, and love is something that the Church should always bless,” he said in a statement.