Pope Francis. (Getty/ Lisa Maree Williams)
Around 700 young people have formally left the Catholic Church in Belgium since the Vatican banned blessings for same-sex couples.
Johan Bonny, bishop of Antwerp, told The Tablet that many of their members pulled away from the Catholic Church after the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) issued its controversial rules around blessings for same-sex couples in March.
In an explanatory note, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office told church members that same-sex couples must not be given blessings as doing so would be an affront to God.
In addition to the 700 people who have formally left the church, 2,000 have cancelled their baptismal registrations in Belgium’s Catholic stronghold, Bonny said.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by The Tablet on Wednesday (28 April), Bonny said there was a “dramatic” backlash from “mainly straight people” in his diocese who felt that the Catholic Church’s regressive guidance was “a step too far”.
Bonny was highly critical of the CDF, saying its firm ban on blessings for same-sex couples represented a “theological weakness”.
“It’s as if it was written in the time of Pius XII,” he said, suggesting that the document fails to take into account advancements in theological thinking that have taken place in recent decades.
He said the Vatican had failed to consult with bishops and other departments within the Catholic Church before issuing its explanatory note in March.
Bonny said the cost of this failure is that people are leaving the Catholic Church in their droves.
“It’s not about principles or theories – it is about real people and that is my concern,” Bonny said.
“That is our responsibility in front of God our Father,” he added.
‘Demoralised’ friends and family of LGBT+ people are leaving the Catholic Church
There was significant backlash within the Catholic Church when the CDF issued its rules around same-sex unions in March.
The controversial document claimed that same-sex relationships are “not ordered to the Creator’s plan” and said offering blessings to queer couples would constitute “a certain imitation” of opposite sex marriage.
The document said that God loves all his children and they are more important to him than the sins they commit.
However, it added: “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognise that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are’.”
Days after the guidance was issued, Jesuit priest James Martin – who campaigns for LGBT+ acceptance and inclusion within the institution – said the Catholic Church was facing its biggest walk out since the child-sexual abuse scandal.
Martin said “demoralised” Catholics were ready to leave the church over the document – and it wasn’t just LGBT+ people who were planning on calling it quits. Their families and friends were also preparing to walk out, he said.