Another happening that has religious right knickers atwist as the year turns: as Francis DeBernardo reports for New Ways Ministry yesterday, Antwerp bishop Johan Bonny recently stated in an interview with the Belgian newspaper De Morgen that the Catholic church should recognize and bless committed gay unions, and in this way, draw those who are gay (and often alienated from the church) into the Catholic community.
I haven't seen a complete English translation of the De Morgen article, which is in Flemish. John Dick has helpfully provided a partial translation of Bishop Bonny's remarks for NCR readers, which Francis DeBernardo cites. Bonny states,
There should be recognition of a diversity of forms. We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church. … The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.
Summaries of Bishop Bonny's statements I've read in the French media are reporting a similar reading of his remarks, and indicate that the gist of his statement is to argue that, since there is "a diversity of forms" by which couples both straight and gay are forming unions and families in society today, the church should look for ways to acknowledge and bless those forms. Vis-a-vis gay lives, this is to say that gay marriages are happening, and when the surrounding culture sees value in the committed marital relationships of gay couples while the church pretends no such valuable committed relationships can possibly exist, the church is the loser.
It's better to recognize frankly that many couples — a majority, in fact — both straight and gay are not living today the marital ideal the church holds up to all of its members and all of society: one man and one woman committed to each other for life, with no sexual activity occurring until that man and that woman marry. It's better to bless the reality of the "diversity of forms" now found in our societies than to keep shouting about an ideal that in no way touches the real lives most human beings are living in the societies we're shouting at. If, that is, we really want to have any tangible influence in the real world . . . .
And it's better — more honest, not to say more moral — to acknowledge that many gay relationships aim at and achieve the ethical ideals proclaimed by the church, ideals of exclusivity, loyalty, and care. It's better to strengthen those committed relationships than to refuse to acknowledge that they are there, and cruelly to exclude those living in such relationships from the Catholic community. (Bonny does not reject the Catholic understanding of heterosexual sacramental marriage as the normative form of marriage for the Catholic community, by the way.)
As I say, this proposal to admit that some people are gay and some of those who are gay are striving to live in committed marital relationships is predictably driving many right-wing religious types wild. Welcome the gays?! Bless them?! Recognize that their marital unions can be full of grace?
Over my dead body.
As I noted in September, prior to the synod on the family, Bishop Bonny released a statement in which he called on his brother bishops to "pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life" and to stop trying to impose doctrinal straitjackets onto the complex reality of the concrete lives people are living today — if the church wants to have any real relevance in the culture of this period of history, that is. As Bonny asks, is this not precisely how Jesus himself behaved?
The photograph of Bishop Bonny by Bron:IPID is from the website of the Belgian Catholic bishops' conference.