Archbishop Chaput: The Cost of “Making a Mess”

One of the standards the Church uses to measure the quality of her leaders is a simple line from Scripture: “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). So it was for Paul. So it is now. So it is for local pastors and bishops, including the bishop of Rome. Confusion among the faithful can often be a matter of innocent individuals who hear but fail to understand the Word. Confused teaching, however, is another matter. It’s never excusable. The transmission of Christian truth requires prudence and patience because humans are not machines. But it also demands clarity and consistency. Deliberate or persistent ambiguity—anything that fuels misunderstanding or seems to leave an opening for objectively sinful behavior—is not of God. And it inevitably results in damage to individual souls and to our common Church life.

I mention this for a reason. A Protestant friend of mine, a Reformation scholar, sent a text to his Catholic friends on December 18 with the news that “Francis has unleashed chaos in your communion.” He was referring to the text Fiducia Supplicans (“On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings”). Rome’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), led by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández—a close colleague of Pope Francis—had just released it that day. The document is a doubleminded exercise in simultaneously affirming and undercutting Catholic teaching on the nature of blessings and their application to “irregular” relationships. And it was quickly interpreted as a significant change in Church practice. Father James Martin, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ concerns, was promptly photographed blessing a gay couple in a New York Times article that noted:

Father Martin had waited years for the privilege of saying such a prayer, however simple, out in the open.

“It was really nice,” [he] said on Tuesday, “to be able to do that publicly.”

The pope’s decision was greeted as a landmark victory by advocates for gay Catholics, who describe it as a significant gesture of openness and pastoral care, and a reminder that an institution whose age is measured in millenniums can change.

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