As reported in Belgian newspapers and the Belgian Catholic press service, Kerknet, this morning (September 5), Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp has written a long letter to the Vatican about his personal expectations for the Synod on the Family, which takes place from October 5 to 19 in Rome.
Obviously he cannot anticipate what will happen there but he has indicated what he would like to see happen.
Johan Bonny has been Bishop of Antwerp since October 2008. Many church observers would like to see him succeed Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and thus Primate of Belgium.
As a bishop, Bonny said that he has experienced a decades old gap between what the church teaches and the perception and attitudes of most believers. This gap arose particularly with Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. Bonny insists that gap must now be closed by a church that truly is collegial in its decision-making and truly listens to people.
Bonny hopes that the October synod, will begin to effectively close the gap. That will only happen, he says, if the church once again becomes the traveling companion of the faithful and listens carefully to their concerns about the complex life situations in which they find themselves.
In his twenty-three page letter, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp pleads for understanding for those who are divorced, those who are living together without marriage, those who are civilly married and homosexual, and those who have become or would like to become parents through in vitro fertilization.
There are good reasons for suspecting that Bishop Bonny’s letter will be given serious consideration by the Vatican. Cardinal Walter Kasper, close friend and theological advisor to Pope Francis, is also a personal friend of Johan Bonny. They met in 1997, when Bonny was one of his closest collaborators in Rome.
That Bishop Bonny’s thinking is very similar to the thinking of the German is therefore no coincidence; and the German cardinal has a great influence on the Pope.
With Bishop Bonny’s letter, the October Synod is truly starting to take on new interest.