A Roman Catholic bishop in Belgium has broken episcopal ranks and called on the Church to recognise gay relationships.
In an interview published in De Morgen and reported by the National Catholic Reporter, the Bishop of Antwerp, Rt Rev Johan Bonny, said that there should be "a recognition of diversity of forms" of relationship.
"We have to look inside the Church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples," he said. "Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the Church."
He added: "The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other."
Before the Vatican's Synod on the Family in October, Bonny issued an open letter saying that the Church needed to show more respect for homosexuality, divorced people and modern kinds of relationships. In his latest interview, however, he went further. While traditional marriage between a man and a woman "will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form", he said, "this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the Church can acknowledge". He continued: "Indeed, we need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples. Does that recognition have to be a sacramental marriage? Perhaps the Church could much better reflect on a diversity of forms of relationships."
Bonny's candid avowal of a more liberal and accepting approach to homosexuality is in tune with the values of his native Belgium, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2003. However, his comments run against the views of the vast majority of senior Catholic leaders who reject the view that homosexual relationships can be seen as morally equivalent to heterosexual ones. While Pope Francis has called for the Church to be more grounded in pastoral realities and has modelled a different tone in speaking of gay people, he holds conservative views on traditional marriage.