BRUSSELS, Belgium: In defiance of a ruling against such practices by the Vatican's doctrinal office, Flemish Roman Catholic bishops have effectively announced they will allow officiating at same-sex unions.
The bishops published a document on the website of the Bishops' Conference of Belgium that proposed a ritual, which would include a prayer and a benediction for stable same-sex unions.
However, it added that the ritual was not "what the Church understands by a sacramental marriage," though the Church wanted to be "pastorally close to homosexual persons and be a welcoming Church that excludes no one."
The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment.
In response to formal questions from several Roman Catholic dioceses on whether they could allow the practice of blessing same-sex unions, in March 2021 the Vatican's doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), ruled that this was not possible.
The Doctrine of the Faith also stressed that its ruling was "not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite" of the sacrament of marriage and the blessing associated with it.
In response to the ruling, Bishop John Bonny of Antwerp said he felt "shame for my Church" and apologized to those who had been hurt by the "painful and incomprehensible" decision to officiate at gay weddings.
Pope Francis has expressed his support for civil union legislation to give same-sex couples legal protection and rights, such as inheritance and shared health care, but he opposes same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church.
Geert De Kerpel, spokesman for the Flemish bishops, said their intention was not to defy the Vatican's ruling.
In an interview with Reuters, he said the move is in line with the Pope's calls for a more inclusive Catholic Church, stressing, "This is first and foremost a positive message."