Flemish Catholic Church first in the world to bless same-sex couples
The Roman Catholic Church Vlaanderen published a letter announcing a prayer service to bless same-sex couples, despite the Vatican still explicitly forbidding such a ritual. The Flemish bishops are the first in the world to give the green light for a church blessing for gay couples, according to the Nederlands Dagblad.
The Catholic dioceses centered in Bruges and Ghent cover the Belgian provinces of West-Vlaanderen and Oost-Vlaanderen, which share a border with the southern Dutch province of Zeeland.
Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and the Flemish bishops said same-sex couples “deserve our appreciation and support.” “Because this relationship can also be a source of peace and shared happiness for those involved.” Religious gay couples often ask for “a moment of prayer to ask God that He may bless and perpetuate this commitment of love and faithfulness.” Heeding this request, the bishops drew up a sample liturgy. Though they stressed that this blessing is not the same as a “sacramental marriage” between a man and a woman.”
Last year, the Vatican announced that such practices violate church law and remain prohibited, according to the Volkskrant. Priests can bless single gay men and women, but with the intention that they refrain from “non-traditional” relationships. Despite this, the Flemish bishops say they feel “supported” by Pope Francis. He wrote that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be treated with respect in his Amoris Laetitia in 2016.
The church blessing is part of the Roman Catholic Church Vlaanderen’s larger plan to keep gay believers “close along the sometimes complex path of recognizing, accepting, and positively experiencing their sexuality.” The bishops know people from the LGBTQIA+ community can feel lonely within the church. “It hurts when they feel they don’t belong or are excluded. They want to be heard and recognized,” the bishops wrote.
The church is setting up an overarching point of contact called Homosexuality and Faith, where people can go with questions. Each diocese must also designate someone to support people from the LGBTQIA+ community.