10 September 2014, The Tablet

Belgian bishop urges real dialogue at Synod

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Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny has published a long letter on the upcoming Synod of Bishops urging the assembly to have the courage to bring the Church’s moral teachings more in line with the lived experience of the laity.

"The Church must step away from its defensive, antithetical stance and seek anew the path of dialogue" on moral issues, he wrote in the 22-page letter posted on his diocese’s website in five languages. 

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Read the letter in full

"It must dare once again to start with 'life' and then move on to 'teaching'. The Church has nothing to lose in this regard,” Bonny said, noting many lay people ignored or rejected some doctrinal or moral decisions made by the Vatican.

There is a gap between “the moral teachings of the Church and the moral insights of the faithful”, the letter said, which was partly due to the failure to develop the collegiality between bishops and the Vatican decided virtually unanimously at the Second Vatican Council.

Bishops found themselves caught between their desire to minister to the faithful in the new pastoral manner and loyalty to popes who stressed the primacy of the magesterium, he said.

The Council had also stressed the importance of personal conscience, but since the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae banning artificial birth control, it had been sidelined, the letter said. The synod should “restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church.”

The 5-19 October meeting should not be a “Platonic synod” focused on safe doctrinal debate and “bipolar thinking” in terms of regular and irregular situations. Instead, it should try to accompany people like unwed mothers, same-sex unions, cohabiting couples or couples who resort to IVF after failure to conceive.

Bonny also said the Church must ask itself if the ban on communion for the divorced and remarried properly reflects what Jesus intended with the Eucharist. “We have to bear in mind that a large company of publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus,” he wrote. 

The letter was praised in Belgium as a courageous act, especially because of the theological and pastoral argumentation backing up its arguments. "A lot of people think like Bonny. Only it's hard to be the first to say such things publicly," said Rik Torfs, rector of the Catholic university KU Leuven. “It’s important that someone from the official Church clearly states his opinion about the way the Church deals with certain matters,” said Josian Caproens, head of the Interdiocesan Pastoral Council.

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