A standard-bearer of progressive thought at the Synod on the Family, Bishop Johan Bonny, admitted last night that he had been prevented from raising the issue of the pastoral care of gay Catholics in the gathering’s group discussions.
Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, who was in a group led by a senior African cardinal, Robert Sarah, said there had been no way of discussing the issue “in a peaceful way.”
Bonny was speaking at a press conference in Rome called by the three Belgian bishops at the synod on Friday night. Clearly alluding to tensions with Cardinal Sarah in the group, he said it was better to talk about the gay issue “in a positive way than in a bad atmosphere.”
In his synod intervention, Cardinal Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, reportedly compared “gender ideology” with Islamic State fundamentalism and Nazism.
The Belgian cardinals admitted that there had been no solution to their central concerns at the synod: Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and a more pastoral approach to homosexuals. The reason for this, they said, was the growing dominance of Africa in the Catholic Church and the decline of Europe.
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Bonny, who was appointed to the synod by Pope Francis, said bishops from the two continents came to the synod with contrasting ideas and experiences. Europe’s concerns were not “of primary concern” to the Africans.
On the gay issue Bishop Bonny said: “In the synod this question was not really discussed. Most bishops in western Europe speak more or less the same language but the atmosphere and readiness was not there at the synod.”
He said the Synod Fathers needed more time to consider the question of same sex unions. He said they needed to hear from biblical scholars, moral theologians, canon lawyers, and social scientists.
“It is wise to say ‘let us not go too fast’,” said Bonny.
All three bishops insisted that the synod marked the beginning of a positive change in the Church’s pastoral care for the family, insisting that “the pastoral window is open.”
Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, described the Church as a tanker that takes a long time to change course but that change would eventually happen. However, he accepted that the Church is much less European and that this had been reflected in the synod.
The finishing touches to the synod’s final document were being made this morning and it is due to be passed to Pope Francis later today.
Bonny said that the hallmarks of the document were the bishops’ firm commitment to marriage between a man and a woman based on a strong and generous commitment and children. It would stress that the family should be protected not only by the Church but by civil society. Great emphasis would be placed on marriage preparation and for support for married couples, especially in the early years.
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Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent said the most important words in the final document would be “listen, integrate, accompany”.
Looy echoed Pope Francis’ exhortations on mercy, tenderness and giving witness to the world.
“Life is stronger than theory about marriage and the family. One learned in this synod not to judge. We have accepted what people have said. We are an example of listening and accompanying. We have done this in the last three weeks,” he said.