The Flemish bishops have released a new liturgy to bless same-gender couples, citing Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia in doing so, and directly ignoring the Vatican’s 2021 ban on such liturgies.
The liturgy is included in a longer document by the bishops of the Flanders region in Belgium about “being pastorally close” to LGBTQ+ people such that there is a “welcoming Church that excludes no one.” Acknowledging the presence of LGBTQ+ people in the church and advances in civil society, the document includes a “Prayer for Love and Faithfulness” at the end based on frequent requests for same-gender couples to be blessed.
The liturgy is suggested to be roughly seven parts, per a working English translation tweeted by journalist Diane Montagna:
- Introduction and opening prayer
- Reading from scripture
- Vows between the couple as “they express before God how they commit to each other”
- Prayer of the community so that “God’s grace may work in them to care for each other and for the wider community in which they love”
- Intercessory prayers
- Our Father
- Final Prayer and Blessing
The bishops propose some text for parts three and four. For instance, the vows between the couple may be:
“God of love and faithfulness, today we stand before You surrounded by family and friends.
“We thank You that we could find each other. We want to be there for each other in all circumstances of life. We confidently express here that we want to work on each other’s happiness, day by day.
“We pray: grant us strength to be faithful to each other and deepen our commitment. On your nearness we trust, from your Word we want to live, given to each other for good.”
For the prayer of the community, the text suggests:
“God and Father, we surround N. and N. today with your prayer. You know their hearts and the path they will take together from now on. Make their commitment to each other strong and faithful.
“Let their home be filled with understanding, tolerance, and care. Let there be room for reconciliation and peace. Let the love they share delight them and make them of service in our community.
“Give us the strength to walk with them, together in the footsteps of your Son and strengthened by your Spirit.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the Belgian bishops’ new liturgy:
“The Flemish bishops have recognized the important pastoral issue that is necessary to be truly welcoming to same-gender couples. These prelates recognize that love is love. Love is more important than sexual behavior, and love is something that the church should always bless.
“These blessings will be the beginning of recognizing the full humanity of LGBTQ people, by acknowledging that their human need for and expression of love comes from God, and it is indeed a blessing for the couple and the church.
“This is an important step because it shows how real and lasting change in the Catholic Church happens. Pastoral practice always precedes doctrinal change. This action is a sign of things to come.”
According to America, among the bishops behind this document are Cardinal Josef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Bishop Lodewijk Aerts of Bruges, Bishop Lode Van Hecke of Ghent and Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt
The bishops also stated that the liturgy can be adapted to local situations: “What content and form this prayer can concretely take is best discussed by those involved with a pastoral leader.” They do clarify this liturgy is different than sacramental marriage, however the bishops are remarkably positive about same-gender relationships. They write, in part:
“Even believers living a stable homosexual relationship desire respect and appreciation within the faith community. It hurts when they feel they do not belong or are excluded. They want to be heard and recognized. That is what this pastoral approach is about: their story of uncertainty towards growing clarity and acceptance; their questions about church positions; their joy in knowing a stable partner; their choice for an exclusive and lasting relationship; their determination to take responsibility for each other and their desire to be of service in church and society.”
At another point, the bishops say that both LGBTQ+ people who remain celibate and those who enter into partnerships, which “can be a source of peace and shared happiness,” deserve the appreciation and support of the church.
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, is repeatedly cited as the basis for the bishops’ new actions. The new text also builds on their own statement in March 2021, a response to the Vatican’s ban on same-gender blessings, in which the bishops committed themselves to intensified LGBTQ+ pastoral outreach.
To that end, some policy announcements are also made in this new text to serve LGBTQ+ people primarily, but also families, the wider church, and civil society. The bishops write:
“The Flemish bishops want to structurally anchor their pastoral commitment to homosexual persons and couples. The policy team of the Inter-diocesan Service for Family Pastoral Care (IDGP) will have an additional staff member to take this to heart. The bishops have appointed Willy Bombeek for this purpose. In addition, each diocese will appoint someone to look after the same pastoral focus of diocesan family pastoral care. He or she will be the point of contact for that diocese.”
Bishop Bonny was the first Catholic bishop to call for same-gender blessings, doing so back in 2014. Cardinal De Kesel echoed this call in 2018. Following the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issuing a 2021 document that said such blessings were impermissible because “God cannot bless sin,” Bonny said he was “ashamed” of the church and apologized. He later commented that at least 700 Catholics left the church in his diocese over it.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 21, 2022
National Catholic Reporter, “Bishops in Belgium authorize prayer for committed gay couples”