Doctrinal shift or shit?     

By Artchil B. Fernandez

The Vatican dropped a bomb in the dying days of 2023.  Reversing the 2021 flat-out denial of blessings to same-sex couples “because God cannot bless sin” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican issued Fiducia Supplicans.  The document, released last December 18, 2023 by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) formally allowed priests to bless same-sex couples.  Fiducia Supplicans has the blessing of Pope Francis.

The reversal is not unexpected.  In October 2023, Pope Francis’ response to the “dubia” sent by five conservative cardinals already suggested that under certain circumstances blessing same-sex couples could be offered as long as “that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage.”

Fiducia Supplicans tackles the question of “blessing” – its sacrament, meaning of various blessings.  The controversial part is sections 31-41 that discusses “Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex.”  This is the portion that is sparking controversy, rankling the conservatives section of the Church while sending the liberal wing rejoicing.

Before touching on the highly contentious subject, Fiducia Supplicans took pains to affirm the Church position that marriage is “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.” The document declared that “the Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.” It therefore gives assurance that nothing is changed on this matter.

The document took great length to differentiate “sacramental” blessing and “pastoral” blessing. What is being conferred upon same-sex couples is pastoral blessing not sacramental blessing. Hence care must be taken that the blessing on irregular couples and same-sex couples “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

What is given to couples whether irregular or same-sex is non-ritualized blessing. Thus, the document instructs priests. “For this reason, one should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation.”  Outside of formal ritual, “such a blessing may instead find its place in other contexts, such as a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage.”

To emphasize the pastoral nature of the blessing and that it is not sacramental, the document pronounced that “Indeed, through these blessings that are given not through the ritual forms proper to the liturgy but as an expression of the Church’s maternal heart—similar to those that emanate from the core of popular piety—there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”

Despite assurances that Fiducia Supplicans does not change the Church’s position on marriage, conservatives and traditionalists are not only unconvinced and but are outraged.  For them the document is a “major doctrinal shift” or “shit” depending on the gravity or degree of the opposition.  They find many aspects of the document problematic.  It is prone to misinterpretation and can be used to justify the unjustifiable.

Deacon Michael Forrest, a Catholic writer poses this question.  “First, in my experience, same-sex couples typically believe the Church needs to change her teaching on same-sex relationships and acts. As such, it seems fair to ask, how many same-sex ‘couples’ are genuinely seeking to make their relationship holy — meaning free of homosexual thoughts and acts – in the first place? How many acknowledge in any way that homosexual attraction is ‘objectively disordered’ or that homosexual acts are ‘acts of grave depravity’ that are ‘intrinsically disordered’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357-2359)? The fact that they present themselves as a ‘couple’ would seem to suggest they are actively involved in embracing a gay lifestyle, rather than resisting it while remaining same-sex attracted. In this light, how would a bishop, priest or deacon properly bless such couples, as couples, while not being deceptive about the intention of such a blessing or insulting them and creating a further obstacle between them and the Church?”

A priest (SCOTIUS) through social media finds the distinction between irregular couple and same-sex couple tricky and counterintuitive.  “‘Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex.’ The title alone is problematic, and it gets worse when section 39 is read and digested. The implied conjoining of irregular canonical situations such as a woman and a man living together prior to marriage or a divorced couple living together, etc. – however sinful – is not the moral equivalency of a same-sex union, which is not an irregular union; it is a disordered one. One state (man and woman cohabitating) may be sinful, but it is natural. The other (same sex unions with implied sexual relations, including one of the four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance, sodomy) is always disordered and unnatural.”  He concludes by stating “I would not hesitate to give a gay person a blessing, but I will not bless a gay union, nor will I bless a couple who is living together with no plans to confect marriage, when said couple is fully aware of church’s teaching on marriage.”

Blessing, albeit pastoral for same-sex couples is a radical innovation and doctrinal novelty of Pope Francis “who has made welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics a hallmark of his papacy.”  However, this also opened the door to controversy, fissure and even schism.

Fiducia Supplicans claims it changed nothing, yet it changes everything.