Note by Mgr Marc Aillet about the Statement Fiducia Supplicans
“The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has just published, on December 18, 2023, with the approval of Pope Francis, the Fiducia Supplicans Declaration “on the pastoral significance of blessings”.
Hailed as a victory by the secular world, and in particular by LGBT lobbies who finally see it as recognition by the Church of homosexual relations despite the multiple restrictions recalled by the Roman document, it is the subject of unprecedented public disapproval from entire episcopal conferences, particularly from Africa and Eastern Europe, as well as from bishops from all continents. In addition, many faithful, including newbies, and many priests, who face, in a society losing its bearings, complex pastoral situations, demonstrating as much fidelity to the teaching of the Magisterium as of pastoral charity, express their confusion and their incomprehension.
Challenged by these reactions and after having taken the time to reflect, I wish to address, as bishop, to the priests and faithful of my diocese, a note with a view to helping them welcome this declaration in a spirit of communion with the Holy Apostolic See, giving some keys to understanding, while respectfully questioning certain points of the declaration likely to be clarified. Finally, I would like to invite the priests of my diocese to exercise prudence, the virtue par excellence of discernment. I am aware that this note is dense, but it seems important to me to treat the question with sufficient theological and pastoral height.
An unchanged doctrine on marriage
Fiducia supplicans begins by recalling that the Church’s teaching on marriage, as a stable, exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of new lives, remains firm and unchanged (n. 4). This is the reason why, the text insists, it is impossible to give a liturgical or ritual blessing to couples in an irregular situation or of the same sex, which would risk causing serious confusion between marriage and de facto unions. (n. 5). It is thus specified that this is the reason why the former Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an ad dubium response, on February 22, 2021, concluded that it was impossible to give a blessing to “couples” of the same sex.
Distinction between liturgical blessings and pastoral blessings
A whole biblical journey is then proposed to establish the distinction between liturgical blessings (n. 10) and blessings that we will qualify as pastoral, with a view to clarifying the possibility of a blessing granted to a person who, whatever whatever his condition as a sinner, can ask a priest, outside of a liturgical or ritual context, to demonstrate his trust in God and his request for help in order to “live better” and to better adjust his life to the will of God ( n. 20). This is also part of an elementary and two-thousand-year-old pastoral practice of the Church, particularly in the context of popular devotion (n. 23-24), where it is never a question of exercising control over the unconditional love of God towards all nor to require a certificate of morality, it being understood that this is a sacramental, which does not act as a sacrament ex opere operato, but on which the effectiveness of grace depends of the good dispositions of the one who requests and receives it. So far, the text brings nothing new to the ordinary teaching of the Church in these matters.
A pastoral blessing extended to same-sex couples
From the centuries-old practice of spontaneous and informal blessings, which have never been ritualized by ecclesial authority, we move on to what was presented in the introduction to the document as its own object: “It is precisely in this context [that of the “pastoral vision of Pope Francis] that we can understand the possibility of blessing couples in an irregular situation and same-sex couples, without officially validating their status or modifying in any way the perennial teaching of the Church on marriage” (Presentation). It will even be specified that “this gesture does not claim to sanction or legitimize anything” (n. 34).
This is how in the third part of the declaration, we surreptitiously slip from the possibility of blessing a person, whatever their situation, to a blessing granted to a “couple” in an irregular situation or of the same sex.
Despite all the details on the non-liturgical nature of these blessings and the laudable intention “to join in the prayers of people who, although living a union which cannot in any way be compared to marriage, wish to entrust themselves to the Lord and to his mercy, to invoke his help and be guided towards a greater understanding of his plan of love and truth” (n. 30), we are obliged to note that this was received, almost unanimously, by both professionals and by the contras, as a “recognition by the Church of homosexual relations” themselves. However, it is unfortunately often in this sense that the practice – already in use in certain local Churches – of blessing “couples” of the same sex is understood, particularly in Germany or Belgium, and in a completely public manner. It is to be feared that they will feel encouraged in this way, as a number of people have already demonstrated.
Questions that require clarification
We understand the legitimate wish of the Holy Father to demonstrate the closeness and compassion of the Church towards all situations, even the most marginal: is this not in fact the attitude of Christ in the Gospel, “he who welcomed tax collectors and sinners” (cf. Mt 9:11), and which constitutes a good part of our ordinary ministry? There are nevertheless some questions which remain unanswered and require real clarification, both from a doctrinal and pastoral point of view.
Would these blessings not contradict the notion of “sacramental” that any blessing assumes?
It should be noted that the reason put forward by the Responsum ad dubium of 2021 emphasized less the liturgical context of the blessing than its “sacramental” nature which remains whatever the context: “To be consistent with the nature of sacramentals, when a blessing is invoked upon certain human relationships, it is necessary – in addition to the right intention of those who participate in it – that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the purposes of God inscribed in Creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Only realities which are in themselves ordered to serve these plans are compatible with the essence of the blessing given by the Church” (Explanatory note of the Responsum ). This is the reason why the ancient Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared illicit “any form of blessing” with regard to relationships that involve sexual practice outside of marriage, as is the case with unions of people of same sex. It is certainly necessary to recognize and value the positive elements that these types of relationships contain, but they are put at the service of a union which is not ordered to the Design of the Creator.
Is there not a distinction to be made between blessing a person and blessing a “couple”?
The Church has always held that “These blessings are addressed to all and that no one should be excluded” (n. 28). But, if we refer to the Book of Blessings and the Directory on popular piety and the liturgy , we see that they concern essentially, if not exclusively, individual people, even gathered in groups, such as elderly people or catechists. . But in these cases, it is not the relationship which unites them, and which is only extrinsic, which is the object of the blessing, but rather the person.
Thus, here we come to the novelty of the declaration Fiducia supplicans which does not lie in the possibility of blessing one person in an irregular or homosexual situation, but of blessing two who present themselves as a “couple”. It is therefore the “couple” entity which invokes the blessing on it. However, if the text takes care not to use the terms union, partnership or relationship – used by the old Congregation for its prohibition – it does not provide a definition of the notion of “couple”. become here a new object of blessing.
A semantic question therefore arises which is not resolved: can the name “couple” reasonably be given to the relationship between two people of the same sex? Have we not integrated a little hastily the semantics that the world imposes on us but which confuses the reality of the couple? In his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (2003), John Paul II writes: “We even observe attempts aimed at accepting models of couples where sexual difference would no longer be essential” (n. 90). In other words: isn’t sexual difference essential to the very constitution of a couple? This is an anthropological question which deserves to be clarified to avoid any confusion and ambiguity, because if the world has extended this notion to realities which do not enter into the Design of the Creator, must not the magisterial word assume a certain rigor in its terminology to correspond as best as possible to the revealed, anthropological and theological truth?
What about homosexual relationships?
Granting a blessing to a homosexual “couple”, and no longer just to two individual people, seems thereby to endorse the homosexual activity which links them, even if, once again, it is made clear that this union cannot be assimilated at the wedding. This therefore raises the question, which is not addressed in this declaration, of the moral status of homosexual relationships. However, the teaching of the Church, in accordance with Sacred Scripture and the constant teaching of the Magisterium, considers these relationships to be “intrinsically disordered” ( Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2357): if God is not repugnant to bless the sinner, can he say good things about what is not concretely in conformity with his Design? Wouldn’t this contradict God’s original blessing when he created man in his image: “male and female he created them.” God blessed them and said to them: ‘be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen 1:28)?
Aren’t there actions that are intrinsically evil?
To put an end to the controversies which had agitated Catholic moralists since the 1970s, on the fundamental option and the morality of human acts, Pope John Paul II published a masterful encyclical, Veritatis splendor (1993), on some fundamental questions of the moral teaching of the Church, and of which we celebrated the 30th anniversary in 2023. This encyclical, which confirms the moral part of the CEC and develops certain aspects of it, recalled
in particular the constant teaching of the Magisterium on the existence of intrinsically evil acts (n. 79-83) which remain prohibited semper and pro semper, that is to say in all circumstances. This teaching is far from being optional and it provides a key to discerning the situations we face in pastoral ministry. Undoubtedly, behavior that is objectively inconsistent with God’s Design is not necessarily subjectively attributable – besides, “who am I to judge?” ”, to use the famous expression of Pope Francis – but it does not necessarily make him morally good. The declaration Fiducia supplicans often refers to the sinner who asks for a blessing – “those who humbly recognize themselves as sinners like everyone else” (n. 32) – but remains silent on the particular sin which characterizes these situations. Experience also shows that it is not certain that this possibility of “unconditional” blessing is an aid to conversion.
Can the exercise of pastoral charity be disconnected from the prophetic mission of teaching?
It is fortunate that this declaration refers to the ministry of the priest and we must give thanks to the Holy Father for creating all kinds of opportunities to allow people, far from the Church and its discipline, to meet a priest, as he expresses the wish in his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia (2016), to experience the closeness of a “tender and merciful God, slow to anger and full of love” (Ps 144, 8). But then, there can be no question for two people of the same sex engaged in homosexual activity and presenting themselves as such, or for couples in an irregular situation, of resorting to a blessing granted, even informally, without a pastoral dialogue to which Pope Francis often encourages pastors.
In this sense, we cannot separate, in the priest’s ministry, the exercise of pastoral charity from his prophetic teaching mission. And the heart of Jesus’ preaching remains the call to conversion, which we can regret is not mentioned in this declaration. When Jesus shows his compassion towards the sinner, he always exhorts him to change his life, as we see, among other examples, in the story of the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you . Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11). What would be a pastoral concern that would not invite the faithful, without judging or condemning anyone, to evaluate their life and their behavior in relation to the words of the Alliance and the Gospel? These words speak of God’s benevolent plan towards men, with a view to conforming their lives to it, with the grace of God, and according to a path of growth, called by John Paul II: “law of graduality or gradual path » (cf. Familiaris Consortio n. 34). Wouldn’t the blessing granted to two people united by a homosexual relationship or to a couple in an irregular situation risk making them believe that their union is a legitimate step in their journey? Now John Paul II was careful to specify: “This is why what we call the law of graduality or the gradual path cannot be identified with the graduality of the law, as if there were, in the divine law , different degrees and forms of precepts according to different people and situations” (Ibid.).
Can we oppose pastoral and doctrine?
Furthermore, can we oppose pastoral accompaniment and doctrinal teaching, as if intransigence were on the side of doctrine and principles, to the detriment of the compassion and tenderness that we owe pastorally to sinners? Faced with the Pharisees who put him to the test, regarding the divorce and the act of repudiation consented to by Moses, Jesus refers without concession to the “Truth of the beginning” (cf. Gn 1 and 2), affirming that if Moses consented to their weakness, it is because of “the hardness of their hearts” (cf. Mt 19:3-9). It is Jesus who even appears to be the most intransigent. It must be said that the old law did not make it just: but with Jesus, we are now under the regime of the new Law which Saint Thomas Aquinas defined, inspired by Saint Paul, as “the grace of the Spirit Holy given to those who believe in Christ” (Summa de Théologie I-II 106, 1). Every act of ministry, including blessings, should therefore be placed under the regime of the new law, where we are all called to holiness, regardless of our sinful condition.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarified in a letter addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church on pastoral care towards homosexual people (1986): “It is appropriate to make it clear that distancing oneself from the teaching of the Church or remaining silent about it is, in an effort of pastoral care, neither the mark of a true sense of responsibility nor that of a true pastoral ministry. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. Not taking into account the position of the Church is to deprive homosexual men and women of the attention they need and deserve” (n. 15).
And Saint John Paul II warns: “The doctrine of the Church and, in particular, its firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts which prohibit intrinsically evil acts is many times understood as the sign of intolerable intransigence, especially in the extremely complex and conflicting situations of the moral life of man and society today, an intransigence which would contrast with the maternal character of the Church. The latter, it is said, lacks understanding and compassion. But, in reality, the maternal character of the Church can never be separated from the teaching mission which she must always fulfill as the faithful Spouse of Christ who is the Truth in person (…) ”In reality, the true understanding and natural compassion must mean love of the person, of their true good and their authentic freedom. And we certainly cannot live such love by concealing or weakening moral truth, but by proposing it with its profound sense of radiance of the eternal Wisdom of God, come to us in Christ, and with its scope of service of man, the growth of his freedom and the search for his happiness” (Familiaris Consortio n. 34). At the same time, the clear and vigorous presentation of moral truth can never ignore the deep and sincere respect, inspired by a patient and trusting love, which man always needs throughout his moral journey often made painful by difficulties, weaknesses and painful situations. The Church, which can never renounce the principle ”of truth and coherence, by virtue of which it does not accept to call good what is evil and evil what is good” ( Reconciliatio et paenitentia n. 34), must always be careful not to break the bruised reed and not to extinguish the wick that is still smoking (cf. Is 42, 3). Paul VI wrote: ”Not diminishing in any way the salutary doctrine of Christ is an eminent form of charity towards souls. But this must always be accompanied by the patience and kindness which the Lord himself has set as an example in dealing with men. Coming not to judge, but to save (cf. Jn 3:17), he was certainly intransigent with evil, but merciful towards people” ( Humanae vitae n. 29). » ( Veritatis splendor n. 95).
“Do not model yourself on the present world”
I am well aware that the question is delicate and I fully subscribe to the will of the Holy Father to insist on the pastoral charity of the priest called to bring the unconditional love of God close to every man, even to the existential peripheries of humanity so wounded today. But I think of these luminous words of the Apostle Paul to Titus, which we hear proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas night, which sums up the entire Economy of Salvation: “For the grace of God has been manifested for salvation of all men. It teaches us to renounce ungodliness and the lusts of this world, and to live in the present time in a reasonable manner, with justice and piety (…) For he gave himself for us to redeem us from all our faults , and to purify us to make us his people, a people eager to do good” (Tit 2, 11-12. 14). The pastoral charity that urges us – “ Caritas Christi urget nos ” (2 Cor 5:14) – to reach all men to show them how much they are loved by God – the proof is that Christ died and rose again to all – urges us, in an inseparable way, to announce to them the Truth of the Gospel of Salvation. And the Truth is thus formulated by Jesus to all those who want to become his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24). Saint Luke specifies that he said it “to all” (Lk 9:23) and not just to an elite.
A word from Saint Paul still resonates in me to enlighten our pastoral attitude: “Do not model yourself on the present world, but may the renewal of your judgment transform you and make you discern what is the will of God, what is good, whatever pleases him, whatever is perfect” (Rm 12:2). All men, including irregular or same-sex couples, aspire to the best, because the inclination to the good, the true and the beautiful is inscribed by God in the heart of every man: it is respecting his dignity and its fundamental freedom than to recognize it. And it is worth “wetting one’s shirt” to help every man, whatever his situation of sin or contradiction with the Design of God as it is revealed in the Decalogue and the Gospel, to discover it and to journey, through processes of growth and the help of God’s grace, to achieve this. And this cannot be done by avoiding the Cross.
Practical pastoral attitude
Also, in conclusion, and given the context of a secularized society where we are experiencing an unprecedented anthropological crisis, which inevitably leads to stubborn ambiguities:
– I invite the priests of the diocese, when faced with couples in an irregular situation or people involved in a homosexual relationship, to show a welcoming full of kindness: people must not feel judged, but welcomed by a a look and a listening that speaks of God’s love for them.
– I then invite them to establish a pastoral dialogue and to have the courage, for the good of the people and with the appropriate sensitivity, without judging them and by involving themselves personally in the pastoral relationship, to tell them clearly the Truth that The Church teaches about their situation.
– Finally, I invite them, if people ask, to give them a blessing, provided that it is to each person individually, calling them to conversion and inviting them to ask for the help of the grace that the Lord grants to all those who ask him to conform their lives to the Will of God.”
Mgr Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron
Bayonne, December 27, 2023
On the feast of Saint John, Apostle