Cardinal Müller: Does Fiducia Supplicans Affirm Heresy?

Does the Vatican’s recent declaration Fiducia Supplicans contain teachings contrary to the divine and Catholic faith? The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) addressed this question in a press release issued on January 4, in response to concerns from many bishops and entire Episcopal Conferences. The press release defends the orthodoxy of Fiducia Supplicans by quoting it, arguing that the declaration does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality and does not state anything heretical. It argues that Fiducia Supplicans concerns not doctrine, but practical matters, and that it simply needs to be adapted to different contexts and sensitivities.

But is it that simple? In reality, the criticism from concerned bishops is not that the declaration explicitly denies Church teaching on marriage and sexuality. Rather, the criticism is that by permitting the blessing of couples who have sex outside of marriage, especially same-sex couples, it denies Catholic teaching in practice, if not in words. The criticism is based on a solid traditional principle: lex orandi, lex credendi—the principle that the way the Church prays reflects what the Church believes. As the Catechism puts it: “When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles.”

There are, in fact, Catholic practices that cannot be altered without rejecting Catholic doctrine. Think, for example, of what the Council of Trent calls the substance of the sacraments, that is, those elements of the sacraments that were established by Christ himself. A change that affects this substance, even if it is a practical change, would be a rejection of Catholic doctrine. For example, if someone were to affirm in words the Catholic teaching on baptism, but then admit to the Eucharist those who are not baptized, he would be rejecting Catholic teaching. St. Thomas said that such contradictions created “falsehood in the sacramental signs.”

The question, then, is whether to accept the “pastoral” and non-liturgical “blessings” proposed by Fiducia Supplicans for couples in irregular situations is to deny Catholic doctrine—not in explicit affirmation, but in practice. The press release issued by the DDF does not answer this question. It is therefore necessary to examine it in detail.

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