'Equal to marriage': Flemish Catholic Church approves service to bless gay relationships

The bishops of the Flemish Catholic Church approved a prayer service to bless gay relationships, Flemish public broadcaster VRT reports on Tuesday. "The blessing is completely equal, but can not be called marriage based on Church tradition. Still, it is very groundbreaking," Willy Bombeek, coordinator of the Church's newly established contact point for religious people from the LGBTI community, told VRT.

In a press release on Tuesday, the bishops of the Flemish Catholic Church announced the creation of a contact point for "homosexuality and faith". Among other things, the contact point will focus on gay people themselves.

"Along the sometimes complex path of acknowledging, accepting and positively experiencing their orientation, we want to remain near to them," the bishops stated.

There will also be a focus on their family and relatives, the press release reads.

Willy Bombeek, former spokesperson for Catholic Education Flanders, was appointed coordinator. "I am religious and gay myself, that is why the bishops asked me to take up this assignment. I think it is important that the Church specifically wanted a religious LGBTI person in this post," Bombeek told Flemish public broadcaster VRT.

The Bishops also approved a prayer service to bless gay relationships, according to VRT.

"The Church felt there should be something for religious LGBTI people in addition to church marriage. In many cases, this was already happening at a local level, but people didn't really know how to do it, they didn't have a proper form for it," Bombeek explained to VRT.

The Church will now provide a structure for services to bless gay relationships. "A commitment based on sustainability and fidelity that can be expressed within the Church. This is important for many LGBTI people: the fact that they can celebrate their relationship within the Church and that this relationship is blessed before God," said Bombeek.

The service will not be called a marriage, however. Bombeek: "After all, you find yourself in a Church tradition where the word 'marriage' is reserved for the relationship between husband and wife."

"The blessing is completely equal, but can not be called marriage based on Church tradition. Still, it is very groundbreaking that we can have a prayer service and blessing for LGBTI relationships from the Church."

"I think it is very brave of the Flemish Church to do this", Bombeek tells VRT. "They are really sticking out their necks, in the spirit of Francis. This is also a very important signal for the children of LGBTI parents, who now hear that their parents are fully accepted within the Church. It is also a signal to the entire world."





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