Belgian bishops propose prayer for gay couples, not marriage

ROME (AP) — Belgian bishops on Tuesday published a proposed text for a prayer liturgy for same-sex couples that includes prayers, Scriptural readings and expressions of commitment, despite a 2021 Vatican directive barring church blessings for gay couples.

The Flemish-speaking bishops stressed that the “moment of prayer” was by no means akin to a sacramental marriage, which Catholic doctrine says is a lifelong union between a man and woman. Rather, they said their proposal is part of the Belgian church’s effort to be more responsive to its gay members and to “create a climate of respect, recognition and integration.” They cited Pope Francis’ call for the church to be more welcoming to gays.

The publication of the text, first reported by the Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad, marks the latest salvo in efforts by more progressive churches to extend greater outreach to gays, led by the German church and its controversial “synodal” process of dialogue with the German laity.

Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

Last year, the Vatican’s doctrine office decreed that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”

The proposed Belgian ceremony includes an “opening word, opening prayer, Scripture reading” as well as the texts of two proposed prayers — one committing both parties to themselves and the other, a prayer of the community for the couple — and ends with the “Our Father prayer, a closing prayer and a blessing.”

Tommy Scholtes, spokesman for Belgium’s bishops conference, denied the proposal amounted to a “blessing” much less a sacramental marriage. He said it was part of the Belgian bishops’ decision to create contact people within each diocese in charge of pastoral care for gays.

With such “point of contacts” created, Scholtes said there will be “an opportunity for homosexual couples to pray together, and others will also be able to pray for them.”

“But there is no blessing, no exchange of consent, there is nothing like a marriage,” he told The Associated Press.

The text of the proposed commitment prayer suggests that the couple thank God for letting them find each other and pledge to be there for one another throughout their lives. The community then responds with a prayer of its own, praying for God’s grace to “make their commitment to each other strong and faithful.”

The Rev. James Martin, who has championed greater church outreach to the LGBTQ community, said the Flemish-language text suggests a blessing.

Given a same-sex couple in the prayer, “then you are asking God to be with same-sex partners not only in the home they share, but in what the prayer calls their ‘commitment,’” Martin said. “So, unless I’m missing something in the translation, while the prayer is not a formal ratification of same-sex marriage, when you invoke the mercy of God on anyone, you are asking God to bless them.”

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Petrequin reported from Brussels.

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