Fiducia Supplicans and Doctrinal Clarity

Not that long ago, Vatican documents that miss the mark would have angered me. Now, I see them more as tragic events. Such is the case with Fiducia Supplicans, a Declaration recently issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith. The document’s supposed aim was to clarify contested issues and heal rifts in the Catholic communion. It failed in both regards. How the laity and clergy have received the document around the world is a bad omen for how we handle divisive issues in the Catholic Church, issues that have broken up other churches.

Theologically, Fiducia Supplicans is not a great piece of work or writing. Doctrinally, it stands on frail foundations; its biblical and traditional reference points are weak. This may be because the ordinary assembly (Feria IV) of the dicastery was apparently not involved in the formulation and approval of the document, which is highly unusual for a document claiming the rank of Declaration. The text appears to be the brainchild of Cardinal Fernandez, the dicastery’s new prefect, together with a small group of experts and staff. Involving the ordinary members, cardinals, and bishops of the dicastery might have delayed the document’s publication, but it would have certainly contributed to its doctrinal clarity, its theological quality, and its more fruitful reception in and outside the Church. Moreover, this more elitist way of operating stands in curious contrast to the culture of synodality championed by the Roman curia. A more synodal process would have better served the Holy Father, whose authority has not been exactly strengthened by the whole affair.

But these issues are secondary compared to what is most deeply at stake: the Church’s clarity about the sacrament of marriage and what it confers, means, and demands—the monogamous, lifelong relationship of love and fidelity between husband and wife willing to accept the blessing of children. This is revealed at the beginning of the Old Testament and fully brought to light by Christ himself in the gospel and in other New Testament books. This doctrine has been received and developed alongside the Church’s sacred tradition.

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