What Is A “Couple”?

In my recent article on the controversy over Fiducia Supplicans, I noted three problems with the document’s qualified permission of blessings for “couples” of a same-sex or other “irregular” kind.  First, the document is not consistent with the Vatican’s 2021 statement on the subject, which prohibited such blessings, nor consistent even with itself.  Second, its incoherence makes abuses of its permission inevitable, despite the qualifications.  Third, the implicature carried by the act of issuing this permission “sends the message” that the Church in some way approves of such couples, even if this message was not intended.  In an interview with The Pillar, Cardinal Fernández addresses the controversy, but unfortunately, his remarks exacerbate rather than resolve the problems.

Some defenders of Fiducia Supplicans have suggested that the document intends “couple” to be understood merely as a pair of individuals, without reference to any special relationship between them. I explained in my earlier article why that simply is not plausible, and the cardinal’s remarks in the interview now decisively rule this interpretation out. Consider these passages from the interview:

Sometimes they are two very close friends who share good things, sometimes they had sexual relations in the past and now what remains is a strong sense of belonging and mutual help. As a parish priest, I have often met such couples

[In] a simple blessing, it is still asked that this friendship be purified, matured and lived in fidelity to the Gospel. And even if there was some kind of sexual relationship, known or not, the blessing made in this way does not validate or justify anything.

Actually the same thing happens whenever individuals are blessed, because that individual who asks for a blessing… may be a great sinner, but we do not deny a blessing to him…

When it is a matter of a couple well-known in the place or in cases where there could be some scandal, the blessing should be given in private, in a discreet place.

End quote. So, the “couples” that Fiducia Supplicans has in view include “friendships” and “two very close friends,” who may have “had sexual relations in the past” or “some kind of sexual relationship” in the past, who retain “a strong sense of belonging and mutual help” and may be “well-known in [some] place” to be a couple. And blessing such couples is explicitly contrasted with blessing “individuals.” All of this makes it undeniable that what Fiducia Supplicans is referring to by the word “couple” is not merely two individuals qua individuals, but two individuals considered as having a close personal relationship of some sort. In other words, the Declaration is using the term in just the way most people use it when discussing a romantic relationship, not in some broader sense and not in some technical sense either.

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