Belgian Bishop Bonny: Our Decision to Bless Same-Sex Unions Is “Not Going Against the Pope”

Despite a statement by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith rejecting support for same-sex blessings, the bishop has inferred based on personal conversations with the Holy Father that he's supportive.

Bishop Johan Bonny speaks at a press conference on June 16, 2022, in Belgium.
Bishop Johan Bonny speaks at a press conference on June 16, 2022, in Belgium. (photo: Kurt Desplenter / BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — The bishop of Antwerp, Belgium, said that because Pope Francis has not voiced his opposition specifically to the Flemish bishops’ decision to bless same-sex unions, he has taken that as tacit approval for their action.

Bishop Johan Bonny said in a May 17 interview with that he had had “two conversations” with Francis from which he inferred he knew that he and his brother bishops were “not going against the Pope.”

The Flemish ordinary said he was not allowed to share the precise contents of those conversations, but stressed that knowing the Pope’s stance was “very important for me and for the other bishops in Flanders.” 

Bishop Bonny and the other Flemish bishops of Belgium introduced a blessing for same-sex couples in September 2022, publishing a handout containing a suggested liturgy and prayers and basing their argument on Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, Amoris Laetitia

Asked if undertaking same-sex blessings gave him a conflict of conscience as he was going against a definitive 2021 Vatican ruling that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, Bishop Bonny replied, “No, because it is about the Pope. Not every man in Rome is pope.” 

“From my conversations, I know what my relationship with Pope Francis looks like,” he continued, adding, “We speak ‘cum petro et sub petro’ — with and under Peter — but not the whole Vatican is ‘cum petro et sub petro.’” 

He said the Vatican has “different positions and developments” and there are “theological faculties in Rome that also belong to the Vatican and the Catholic Church,” but he added: “Rome is not just a document or a cardinal. No, Rome is also unity in diversity.”

The Register asked Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni if the Vatican would be responding to Bishop Bonny’s claims of apparent tacit papal support for same-sex blessings, but he did not reply by press time. The Diocese of Antwerp also did not respond to requests for further clarification.


Bonny Boiling the Pot

Last March, Bishop Bonny, who has long pressed for greater acceptance of homosexual relationships within the Catholic Church, told the synodal assembly of the German Church’s Synodal Way that during the Flemish bishops’ ad limina visit last November, the Pope neither approved nor denied such blessings, but said it was the pastoral domain of the Flemish bishops so long as they were all united.

During this week’s interview, Bishop Bonny said he and his brother bishops “speak with one voice; there are no divisions or subgroups on this subject.” He also said the Flemish bishops do not have the same tensions with Rome that mark the Church in Germany — something he put down to their internal unity on “big issues” and being a small bishops’ conference of only eight bishops. “We are not a great threat to Rome,” he said. 

Also in the interview, he said he believed the tension between Germany and Rome was “not helpful,” and that Rome should “listen better” and “not be so critical, as that doesn’t help anyone.” He also claimed there are “more prejudices than judgments in the discussion” and he put some of the dispute down to different Germanic and Italian mentalities. 

Bishop Bonny is thought by some to have influenced the German Synodal Way meeting in March to allow same-sex blessings. He downplayed the suggestion but said “something had to be done, and they know that in Rome, too, that things can’t stay like this.” He believes that “a solution to the issue of homosexuality” needs to be found if the Church is to be missionary. 

“It’s not like that in Africa — not yet — and not like that in Asia either,” he said, but he’s convinced it “will certainly happen” and that the solution should be “based on human science and the Bible, as well as on moral theology and pastoral considerations.” 

“The Pope knows that, too,” he said. “He must be shepherd or father of all. He doesn’t always have to say Yes or No to every question. The papacy is not there to say Yes or No to every question like in the Middle Ages, but to be a good shepherd, a good father for the whole community, to keep the community together.” 

“It is a ministry of unity in the Church, unity in diversity,” he said, adding that “a pope without diversity in the Church has no purpose and no mission.” 

Bishops, he added, “are commissioned to create diversity. Not only must we create unity, but we must also create diversity and bring this diversity to Rome to the house of the Father, of the Pope.” 


What the Vatican Says

In its March 15, 2021, response to a question whether the Church had the power to bless same-sex unions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stressed that blessings are sacramentals and have “singular importance” in the Church’s liturgy. As such, they can only be imparted on that which conforms to the nature of sacramentals. God, the CDF said, “does not and cannot bless sin.” 

The declaration went on to say that its clarification was not meant to be “a form of unjust discrimination,” but rather a “reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.”Bishop Bonny strongly criticized the CDF ruling, saying at the time it was contrary to the “dynamic” of the 2015 Synod on the Family and undermined the “credibility of the ‘synodal path’ advocated by Pope Francis.”