In Flanders, a prayer for homosexual couples
The proposal had aroused an outcry when it was mentioned in Germany. But it is in Belgium that it will be implemented for the first time. The Dutch-speaking Belgian bishops unveiled, on Tuesday, September 20, a liturgy specifically created for homosexual couples. The Flemish Catholic Church thus becomes the first to institute a rite for this purpose. » In amoris laetitiaPope Francis explicitly declares that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be respected in their dignity and treated with respect”, they justify in a press release signed by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, and by the four bishops of Flanders.
Based on the apostolic exhortation and on a pastoral approach that makes room for the « spiritual discernment » the bishops thus affirm that homosexual persons who conscientiously choose “to live as a couple, in a lasting and faithful union with a partner (…)they too deserve our recognition and our support”. However, they insist on the distinction between this prayer and the sacrament of marriage.
After an opening prayer and the reading of the Bible, the proposed liturgy includes an engagement where the two partners, “together express before God the way in which they commit themselves to each other”. They are then invited to say that they want « to be there for each other in all circumstances of life » and pray for “the strength to be faithful to one another”. Presented under the title of “Prayer for fidelity and for love”, this text does not speak explicitly of blessing, nor does it mention the role that the priest or the deacon could play in such a liturgy; but he invites the ecclesial community gathered around the couple to pronounce a prayer which has all the features of a blessing, so that “the grace of God works in their ability to care for each other” and « their commitment to each other is strong and faithful ».
Is this a formula of compromise elaborated to avoid directly confronting the Vatican? In March 2021, the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith had indeed taken an explicit position on the question. In a one-and-a-half-page note, Rome once again opposed any such celebration: the Church, it read, “declares illicit any form of blessing which tends to recognize (them) union » homosexuals. Such a blessing, the Vatican pointed out, would amount to “approving and encouraging a choice and a practice of life”. God « does not and cannot bless sin », added the Roman officials, while not excluding “individual blessings” for “people with homosexual tendencies”.
“It is a time of prayer, and no more”, slips a source close to the episcopate. Author of the text with theologians, Willy Bombeek (interview to read on la-croix.com)he assumes the term of » blessing » : « The commitment of the same-sex couple is blessed and confirmed during the mass, he points out. This is the canvas that each priest can use when he wants to respond to the request of a homosexual couple who addresses his parish. »
Beyond this prayer, the Flemish Episcopate intends « structurally anchor » the accompaniment of homosexual people by creating a “homosexuality and faith contact point” within the interdiocesan family ministry. Willy Bombeek, former spokesman for Catholic education in Flanders, was appointed to oversee its implementation in the dioceses. « What happened here is perfectly in line with the synodal journey that the Pope wishes for the Church: the initiative started from the base, from a personal initiative shared with others, to reach the bishops » , rejoices the latter, mandated four years ago to reflect on the place of homosexual people and their parents in the Catholic Church.
The timetable for the publication of this text, first revealed by the Protestant daily Nederlands Dagblad, owes nothing to chance. All the Belgian bishops will be in Rome from November 20 for the traditional ad limina visits, during which the Catholic leaders of a country exchange views with the Pope and the Curia on the situation of their Church.