Photo: Plumas Atómicas

Fiducia Supplicans: Blessed Confusion?

We have become “used to” the fact that, for the umpteenth time, a document of the Church, especially from the point of view of the media, seems to fuel the confusion and polarization, whose necessity, frankly, wasn’t felt. If some greeted the document as an “anticipated Christmas gift,” for many others it is a painful moment of comprehension and discernment.

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Simone Varisco

(ZENIT News – Café Storia / Rome, 29.12.2023).- It would be good if the great chat these days about the blessings arose from the desire to share Christmas. Instead, the root of this tree, so twistedly decorated, lies in the publication of the Declaration “Fiducia Supplicans” on the pastoral meaning of the blessings by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, introduced by the Presentation of the new Cardinal Prefect Victor Manuel Fernández.

Question of Couples

As is known, the document – which is also proposed  as “a tribute to the faithful People of God” – intervenes on the “possibility to bless couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples, without validating officially their state or modifying in any way the perennial teaching of the Church about marriage.” Ignoring predictably the complex pastoral reinterpretations and the status of heterosexual couples, the debated which has arisen around the Declaration has focused on same-sex couples.

As “Fiducia Supplicans” clarifies, it is the “invocation of a blessing descendant from God Himself on those that, acknowledging themselves indigent and in need of His help, do not intend the legitimation of their own status, but pray that all that there is that is true, good and humanly valid in their lives and relations be invested, healed and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

Hence, the blessing of couples, and not only of individuals: a detail that is in no way secondary and a clear posture and that, at least that seems, unquestionable. It’s good to remember, however, that with equal – apparent – clarity the Catholic Church already expressed herself recently on the same question. In March of 2021, the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith intervened on the issue with a Responsum and the corresponding explanatory Note to a specific dubium on the blessing of unions between same-sex persons. “To the question posed: Does the Church have the faculty to impart a blessing to the union of same-sex persons? The answer is: Negative,” it reads, with exasyllabic transparency, in the first lines of the text.

Couples Yes but Not Union?

It was then, at the time of Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer and now it seems a century ago. All the more so that, at the time, Pope Francis seemed to want to distance himself immediately, if not of the contents, at least of the trance tones of the Responsum and of his Note, generating doubts about his real approval.

The contradiction created in less than three years – so evident but only apparent, it could be said – is resolved in the new Declaration in the key of “reflecting more profoundly, from the pastoral point of view, on the pronouncement formulated by the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021.”

Beyond useless circumlocutions, “Fiducia Supplicans” holds that, “in the matter of blessings, the Church has the right  and the duty to avoid any type of rite that can contradict this conviction or induce to confusion.” So, also, is the sense of the Responsum  of the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when it affirms that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions between same-sex persons.”

Beyond the Union: The Relationship

In reality, three points of the Note to the Responsum of 2021 refer explicitly to a broader concept of union: the relationship. “To be coherent with the sacramental nature, when a blessing is invoked on specific human relations, it is necessary – in addition to the right intention of those taking part in it – that what is blessed is objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, in keeping with God’s designs inscribed in Creation and fully revealed by the Lord Christ. Therefore, only those realities that in themselves are ordered to serve those designs are compatible with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.” Moreover, “for this reason,  it is not licit  to impart a blessing on relations, or even stable couples, which imply a sexual practice outside of marriage (namely, outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of unions between same-sex persons.”

A Look at the Notes

The profound change of ambience of Fiducia Supplicans in regard to the Responsum of 2021 is evident. From this point of view, it is clarifying to look at the notes of the two texts: 13 in the Responsum of 2021 and no less than 31 in “Fiducia Supplicans.” If in the Responsum the quotations attributed to Francis are less than a third (4 out of 13), in Fiducia Supplicans they are two-thirds (20 out of 31). There are only three documents in common: the Book of Blessings of the Roman Ritual, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and a catechesis of Pope Francis on the Prayer of Blessing of December 2, 2020.

Among the illustrious absences at the foot of the page is the reference in the Note to the Responsum to the already controversial No. 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents homosexual relations  as “serious depravities” and homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the Natural Law” (because they “impede the sexual act to be gift of life” and “are not the fruit of a true affective and sexual complementarity), to the point that “in no case can they be approved.”

Reactions to Fiducia Supplicans

“In some ecclesial environments plans and proposals are spreading for the blessing of unions between same-sex persons,” is written in the Note to the Responsum  of 2021. Today it reiterates that the Church “does not have the power to confer her liturgical blessing when the latter, in some way, can offer a form of moral legitimation to a union that presumes to be marriage or an extra marital sexual practice.”

Is all resolved? It doesn’t seem so. There are already many and very different opinions expressed on the Declaration by ecclesial personalities and Episcopal Conferences at the international level. And for the time being, also in consideration of the delicacy of the subject, doubtful formulas seem to prevail.

Numerous are the cases of Bishops and Episcopates that in the main have accepted the Declaration, but they have requested caution in its implementation, to avoid confusions on the approval of homosexual activity by the Church. Thus, for example, the United States, the Philippines, Ukraine, Ghana and especially Kenya, where the Episcopal Conference recognized provocatively “the confusion that exists in more developed countries, of new non-Christian models of ‘union’ and “lifestyles.’”

Harsher were the positions adopted by part of the Episcopate of Kazakhstan, and the Episcopal Conferences of Malawi and Zambia, which rejected expressly the implementation of Fiducia Supplicans in their territories.

Very different is the reception of the Declaration in Belgium and Germany, where a great part of the “progressive” Catholic world, disappointed by the Synod on Synodality, interprets the new document as “a help to take a step forward.”

Curiously, also in “the house of the others,” so to speak, the subject is divisive. Over these days, more than 7,600 of the 30,000 churches of the United Methodist Church have decided to abandon this Protestant name, created in 1968, due to its distancing from the biblical teaching on the subject of homosexuality. It is the largest schism in the religious history of the United States.

Blessed Confusion?

Let us remain vigilant  against the fixity  of ideology that often, under the appearance of good intentions, separates us from reality and impedes us from walking,” reminded Pope Francis in his Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia. “Sixty years after the Council, we continue debating the division between “progressives” and “conservatives,” but this isn’t the difference: the true central difference  is between “lovers” and “habituated.”

On one hand, it seems necessary to overcome “out of love,” on this and other topics, the trivializing logic of “permit-forbid,” to approach the real situation of people, much more articulated than that of a couple.

On the other hand, we have become “used to” the fact that, for the umpteenth time, a document of the Church , especially from the point of view of the media, seems to fuel the confusion and polarization, whose necessity, frankly, was not felt. If some greeted the document as an “anticipated Christmas gift,” for many others it was a painful moment of comprehension and discernment.

The variety of reactions in the ecclesiastical realm and a few more objections do not seem to go in the direction of a greater sense of communion and stimulation to live a better Christian life. The sensation is that the “trust” and “supplications” of the small and simple People of God, namely, of the holiest, are now deposited elsewhere.


Translation of the Italian original by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester

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