Flemish Bishops’ Leader on LGBTQ+ Ministry Roots Efforts in Pope Francis’ Teachings

Willy Bombeek

The Flemish bishops in Belgium have appointed a gay layman to direct the newly-established multi-diocesan LGBTQ+ ministry entitled “Homosexuality & Faith.” 

Crux reported that Willy Bombeek will serve in the Inter-Diocesan Service for Family Pastoral as the “contact point” for LGBTQ+ Catholics in Belgium’s Flemish dioceses (the other Belgium dioceses are culturally and linguistically French). In the bishops’ announcement, they said they wanted to “structurally anchor the pastoral care and guidance of homosexual persons within the Flemish Catholic Church.”

Bombeek, a gay Catholic who has been working in the church for 32 years, explained to Crux that this ministry is “in the spirit of our pope” and something Bombeek says, “I have to do.” Under the guidance of the bishops, each diocese in Flanders is instructed to appoint someone to work specifically with LGBTQ+ individuals and couples, who will then work with Bombeek for guidance on serving the faithful. 

Since 2021, Bombeek has led the Homosexuality & Faith working group designed to establish ministries for LGBTQ+ Catholics. This group was initially inspired by a meeting Bombeek had with Pope Francis in May 2018 when the pope instructed them to “give attention to people living in peripheries around the world.” Bombeek said that this effort was developed by people who, “confirmed the pope’s vision, and from that, they wrote this mission out, and I’m really proud to say that it’s a really big step to acceptance.”

Bombeek’s appointment is part of a broader effort by Belgium’s Flemish bishops who recently released a new liturgy to bless same-gender couples. Both the liturgical document and Bombeek’s appointment are rooted in Pope Francis’s 2015 apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia. These steps by the Flemish Bishops are not without controversy. Their efforts to create blessings for same-sex unions directly contradict a Vatican ban on such blessing issued in March 2021.

While Bombeek said that he is “always worried” about potential backlash or criticism from the Vatican, he added he is confident of the bishops’ support, stating: 

“No matter what happens, they’ll still say to me, continue in what you’re doing, and for me, it’s what our pope has said in Amoris Laetitia: respect, acceptance. Give them a place inside of the church. That’s fundamental.”

Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, commented:

“In establishing structural LGBTQ+ pastoral ministry, especially when led by an openly gay Catholic, the Flemish bishops advance the cause of inclusion in the church. Their effort is especially powerful because they root it in the teachings and vision of Pope Francis. The bishops, Willy Bombeek, and other pastoral ministers in Flanders are setting a model for church leaders worldwide, one which will be hopefully taken up soon.”

Bobby Nichols (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2022

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