What’s Wrong with Fiducia Supplicans?

The idea that blessings may be given without requiring anything from those upon whom the blessings are bestowed is the epitome of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer characterized as “cheap grace.”

Fiducia Supplicans (FS) is very clear that “couples in irregular situations and same sex couples” may now receive a blessing. In 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it was then called, issued a completely opposite statement! That year the CDF, under prefect Cardinal Luis F. Ladaria, S.J., responded to a dubium. To the question proposed: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The response was: “Negative,” and Pope Francis approved of the response. “[I]t is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage…as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”

And the ultimate reason why the Church cannot bless same-sex unions, according to the CDF, is because: “[God] does not and cannot bless sin.”

How does FS justify a complete reversal of the 2021 CDF’s Responsum? First of all, FS states that it actually is “offering new clarifications” on the Responsum ad dubium published on February 22, 2021. However, this is Fernández’s sleight of hand, giving the impression that somehow the conclusions of the Responsum are respected, when in fact FS represents a radical departure—even a repudiation. In order to achieve its conclusion, FS doesn’t hide the fact, nor could it really hide the fact, that it is “a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church,” with “new clarifications,” a “broadening …of the classical understanding of blessings”; and FS doesn’t shy away from even characterizing its “contribution” as “innovative.”

FS is consistent with the 2021 Responsum in that FS bends over backward to ensure that in no way may the blessing of same-sex couples give the impression: “…that something that is not marriage is being recognized as marriage.” Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage—which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”—and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.

This is also the understanding of marriage that is offered by the Gospel. For this reason, when it comes to blessings, the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict this conviction or lead to confusion. Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.”

FS claims the reason the 2021 Responsum forbade blessing same-sex couples is because “the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict [the Church’s teaching on marriage] or lead to confusion. In other words, FS makes it appear that the 2021 CDF statement banning such blessings was ultimately, if not solely, due to the danger of confusion. Thus, if that danger is removed, the way is open to permitting the blessing of “irregular unions.”

The innovation comes next. The danger is removed by developing a “broader understanding of blessings” according to “Pope Francis’ fatherly and pastoral approach.” FS justifies blessings for those in “irregular situations and same-sex couples” by arguing that there is a distinction between formal liturgical blessings and simple, pious, spontaneous blessings—noting that the 2021 Responsum indicated that “when a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships by a special liturgical rite, it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.”

Thus, such formal “liturgical blessings” may not be given to those whose lives do not correspond “with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.” It is article 12 that finalizes the argument:

One must also avoid the risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to this point of view alone, for it would lead us to expect the same moral conditions for a simple blessing that are called for in the reception of the sacraments. Such a risk requires that we broaden this perspective further. Indeed, there is the danger that a pastoral gesture that is so beloved and widespread will be subjected to too many moral prerequisites, which, under the claim of control, could overshadow the unconditional power of God’s love that forms the basis for the gesture of blessing.  

In a strained and tortured argument, Fernández and the pope have created a new category of blessings by which couples living in situations that are objectively sinful may receive a priestly blessing.

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