Brussels - A Belgian bishop has distanced himself from an award given by a gay rights group after he called on the Catholic Church to "respect" divorced people and homosexuals.
Bishop Johan Bonny of the city of Antwerp said he wished to "preserve his independence" and did not need to be honoured for a stance he considered part of his "mission and responsibility", Belgian news agency Belga reported Sunday.
Flemish gay rights umbrella group Cavaria had bestowed an award on Bonny over an open letter he published ahead of a major synod on family issues hosted by Pope Francis in October.
In his letter, the bishop called for "more respect" from the Church for divorced people who remarry, unmarried couples who live together and those who use birth control.
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He also said gay couples joined in a civil unions could "have trouble with the Church's point of view".
He urged the Church to also recognise the good "in forms of common life other than classic marriage".
The bishop had asked Cavaria to be withdrawn from the list of nominees for its Campaign Award, but the group on Saturday evening awarded him the prize anyway, according to Belga.
Cavaria said on its website that the significance of Bonny's letter "should not be under-estimated given the moral influence the Church has in large parts of the world".