Some of the highest-ranking Catholic clergy in Belgium have snubbed warnings from Pope Francis and the Vatican against straying from Catholic moral teaching on sexuality.
Belgian Catholic bishops on Tuesday announced they would begin allowing the blessing of same-sex couples — a practice repeatedly condemned by Pope Francis and the rest of the Catholic Church leadership.
Cardinal Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels, one of the highest-ranking members of the clergy in the country, published his decision to support the change in a Tuesday message titled, “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons — For a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”
The cardinal and bishops, by going against the teachings of the Catholic Church and disobeying the direct order of the pope and Magisterium, have driven a firm wedge between themselves and the international church.
Clergy and lay Catholics worldwide await an inevitable response from the Vatican, though what sort of action the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and Pope Francis will take is still up in the air.
Pope Francis has repeatedly ruled against attempts to change the church’s teachings on sexuality.
In a previous letter on the matter of blessing same-sex couples, Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith dismissed any further questions on the matter, saying: “This all implies a power that the Church does not possess, because she does not have the power over God’s designs, which would otherwise be rejected and denied. The Church is not the arbiter of these designs and the truths they express, but their faithful interpreter and witness.”
The letter went on to state that blessing those in an illicit relationship — even if not a marital blessing — would cause confusion for the faithful.
“Because of the connection between blessings of persons and the sacraments, the blessing of such unions could in a sense imply ‘a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing,’ imparted to a man and a woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony,” the letter read. “This would be erroneous and misleading.”
Belgium is not the only European battlefield in Pope Francis’s fight to keep progressive clergy in line with the Church.
After months of controversy, progressive German bishops failed to pass a similar document updating their teachings on sex, gender and masturbation.
The document, “Living in Successful Relationships,” was narrowly rejected by bishops. The German prelates were pressured heavily by the Vatican to abandon the proposed changes.
At the final vote, 33 bishops voted to adopt the document, 22 voted against. The synod requires a two-thirds majority to pass the document.