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Hypocrisy in opposition to Fiducia supplicans?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 13, 2024

It was about a week ago that Pope Francis, in an interview, spoke as follows:

Nobody gets scandalized if I give my blessings to a businessman who perhaps exploits people, and this is a very grave sin. But they get scandalized if I give them to a homosexual…. This is hypocrisy.

In this case, the Pope used an example of a rapacious businessman, whom nobody would object to blessing—though in fact, if he were requesting a blessing in connection with his immoral business practices, and the blessing were public, there would be a great many questions raised about the prudence of the blessing, and the scandal it creates. Consider, for example, our attitude—and the Church’s extremely critical attitude—toward the Mafia.

But in this comment, the Pope also obscures the nature of the blessings that were authorized by Fiducia supplicans. For the troubling aspect of that document is not that it authorizes the blessing of “a homosexual”—that is, of someone who experiences same-sex attraction—but that it authorizes the blessing of same-sex couples. Moreover, it has now become clear (despite a few more restrictive hints in the text) that these blessings were not really intended primarily for those who are engaged in discussions with a priest to find the understanding and courage to break off their same-sex coupling; or to those who simply happen to be part of a larger group that is receiving a blessing. No, the invitation has now gone out from St. Peter’s Basilica itself for same-sex couples to come for blessings under any and all circumstances.

The context of Fiducia supplicans

There is a potential reading of Fiducia supplicans that sheds a good deal of light on Pope Francis’ attitude toward homosexual couples. If you look back at the text, you’ll notice the effort to distinguish an ordinary personal blessing from a liturgical blessing, particularly the blessings the Church offers in the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this distinction has validity, it also plays into a strategic process for the approval of homosexual coupling which has been gathering steam in the Church (at least in most places in the West) for the past generation.

What I am referring to here is the confusion of sacramental discipline with the larger moral condemnation of homosexual behavior. I assume most observers have noticed the tendency of many Churchmen—and now even Pope Francis—to frame the critical issue in terms not of the moral law but of the Church’s sacramental purposes. In other words, it has become a very handy argument—partly, of course, to save as much face with the dominant secular culture as possible—to emphasize that the Church cannot effect a same-sex marriage because she is not authorized by Christ through her sacramental system to do so, somewhat in the same way that she cannot ordain women. When this is over-stressed (and it is certainly heavily emphasized in Fiducia supplicans), or when it is presented in isolation from other relevant factors, it allows and even encourages people to believe that the Church would sacramentalize same-sex marriage if she could, but sadly all she can do is to offer personal blessings to same-sex couples along with favoring (or at least not opposing) same-sex civil unions.

This way of framing the issue eliminates moral considerations and literally reduces the whole issue to the details of sacramental matter and form. It can become an easy way for Churchmen to make peace with the surrounding culture while upholding the letter of the Church’s own sacramental law. In other words, it too easily becomes a way of avoiding the fundamental moral issue altogether.

Hypocrisy or morality?

Let us consider the question of hypocrisy in this light. It is one of the sadnesses of the current pontificate that Francis has not infrequently accused those who disagree with him of either “hypocrisy” or “rigidity”, usually in the context of misstating the nature of the disagreement itself. In the quotation with which I opened this essay, Pope Francis conveniently accomplishes this goal by altering the context from blessing homosexual couples to blessing “a homosexual” (which is not at all the same thing), and then by insisting that hypocrisy must underlie any opposition to what he has done.

In reality, the whole problem with Fiducia Supplicans is that it approves blessings of homosexual couples, which comes within an invisible whisker of approving non-liturgical blessings for a non-sacramental sort of marriage. In other words, the whole question was framed within the precise context in which, first, the moral implications of the blessing cannot be avoided and, second, the moral implications must be regarded as good. Continuing with the Pope’s analogy with businessmen, this would be like blessing the members of a particularly rapacious business cartel in the context of their business organization and intentions. Does anyone really believe that it would not raise serious questions to give such a blessing to a self-proclaimed group of mafiosi?

It is difficult to believe that Pope Francis is blind to the obvious implications. The whole reason for raising the question of the blessing of homosexual “couples” in the first place was that the Church has always taught that this coupling is immoral, and so from the first it was difficult to see the precise circumstances in which such a couple as a couple could be legitimately blessed. The original text took some care to skirt this issue, but only sacramentally, not morally. Given the results, it is obvious that this care was not adequate to protect against the spiritual dangers, as feared from the outset by every observer who regards same-sex coupling as profoundly immoral—indeed, as contrary to the natural law.

Moreover, only someone completely ignorant of both Sacred Scripture and Church history could fail to realize how spiritually dangerous the discussion would prove to be. To take but one episode from Church history, St. Peter Damian was already famous in the eleventh century for his effort to eliminate homosexuality among the clergy. Peter himself, along with the Church which canonized him, understood the whole problem of sexual deviance in light not only of Catholic Tradition but of Sacred Scripture and the natural law itself.

St. Paul

The “appropriateness” or “inappropriateness” of blessing same-sex couples has nothing to do with the privileged sacramental character of matrimony between one man and one woman. It rather has everything to do with naturally revealed morality which is also proclaimed in Divine Revelation. St. Paul recognized this right from the first, and the fact that he wrote so clearly about it ought to bring his successors in the episcopate up short. Let us look at how Paul treats this “coupling”.

In the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans, Paul points out that the basic understanding of God and of morality can be known to us through nature, “for his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Therefore the primary point Paul makes is that the unrighteous have no excuse:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error….

Paul then goes on to itemize also a far wider range of sins to which those give themselves who reject what God has revealed through nature, indicating that such sins arise from the darkening of hearts and minds that have rejected what the Creator has revealed even through His creation itself, or as we would say now, through the natural law. So Paul concludes: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

The preceding quotations are all from the first chapter of Romans. But in Paul’s letter to Timothy, he also argues specifically against “certain persons” who “have wandered away into vain discussions” which actually undermine what we know to be true even under the Law [that is the Law revealed by God through Moses to the Jews], which is “laid down for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane,… the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality…and whatever is contrary to sound doctrine” (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11).

Here it is wise to remember that the Ten Commandments are about as perfect a summation of the Natural Law as we could ever expect to find. And it is precisely this all-important point that Fiducia supplicans ignores by choosing to place the whole emphasis not on the moral law but on the requirements of the Church’s sacramental system, which rules out liturgical blessings in non-sacramental contexts. It is precisely this sacramental emphasis which (whether intentionally or not) trivializes the moral dimensions of the issue.

The nature of love, the nature of maturity

Therefore, we must ask again: Why would any Catholic priest, let alone the chief priest and the head of the entire Church, insist that misgivings about Fiducia supplicans are rooted in hypocrisy? Why such an ugly and foul dismissal and, moreover, a judgment which only someone who can read souls would be able to offer with any degree of accuracy? Or to speak just a trifle more bluntly: Why call names?

In the same interview, Pope Francis emphasized: “I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage’, I bless two people who love each other.” But for any Christian, this statement is a monumental misconstrual of the nature of love.

We use the term “love” to mean anything from sexual attraction to sacrificial self-giving. Marriage, of course, usually incorporates multiple aspects of the potential meaning of the word “love”, but I am pretty sure that everyone reading this understands that there is a great difference between sexual passion and authentic love, which always includes willing the good of the one we love. Speaking of hypocrisy, it is either an emotional infantilism or a deliberate moral hypocrisy to over-simplify same-sex attraction (or any sexual attraction) by saying “I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage, I bless two people who love each other”. But when two people confuse love with immoral sexual passion, then precisely in this respect they are actually failing to love.

Is it the case that our morally-resistant warm-fuzzies (with which every reflective person must be familiar) should override our deeper understanding of the ultimate nature of love as willing the good of another? It is astonishing that any Christian—let alone a priest or a bishop or a pope—can so dismissively frame the issue as Pope Francis did in this interview.

Once again, St. Paul can be helpful, probably to Pope Francis, and certainly to the rest of us. Here is what he wrote to the Corinthians:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. [1 Cor 13:11-12]

Children, of course, are correctible and can grow up. At the same time, there will always be plenty of adult children in the Church. But one ought to attain to some basic level of spiritual adulthood before one seeks to instruct others. And this means recognizing the dangers of hypocrisy, for it is the stock in trade of hypocrites to instruct others by tarring them with their own brush. Hypocrisy, even in a cautious essay like this, is always a potential boomerang. Certainly it is a human word appropriate to human speech, but no spiritual adult lightly uses it to condemn others—for ultimately, the judgment of hypocrisy does not belong even to the Pope.

My point is that Pope Francis dare not judge those who criticize his ecclesiastical governance to be hypocrites. The very fact that he so often does so is far too revealing, for hypocrisy is ever the accusation of the self-righteous. But the judgment of hypocrisy requires a perfect reading of souls. And that belongs to God alone.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 14, 2024 5:35 PM ET USA

    padre3536: I think you are right that we can still use the terms hypocrite and hypocrisy, but I think we have to be extremely cautious and even provisional in doing so. The word "hypocrisy" is not only used to point out a difference between what we practice and what we preach, but especially to indicate that the goodness part of the equation is deliberately "feigned" or "faked". In other words, hypocrisy does not typically refer only to the fact that we fall short of the ideals we enjoin on others; it usually includes the idea that this difference is deliberately intended. That's the part that requires reading souls.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Feb. 14, 2024 9:25 AM ET USA

    Well, very good! Yet making the judgment of hypocrisy is morally true & actual, as with any type sin -if need a perfect reading of souls, no sin of any species could ever receive admonition, counsel or instruction; Matt. 23:1-2: the point isn't that they were falling short but they preached one set of principles for others & practiced another themselves. It’s the double standard that made them hypocrites - this can be known rightly without perfect soul reading.

  • Posted by: canónigoregular - Feb. 13, 2024 9:27 PM ET USA

    God bless you, Dr. Mirus, for pinpointing the fallacy of (someone's) blanket judgment of "Hypocrisy!" against all who disagree; and for clearly pointing out the huge distinction between "obedience to the moral law" and the "Church's requirements of the sacramental system".

  • Posted by: edward.caron2084 - Feb. 13, 2024 7:36 PM ET USA

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to Francis’ self righteous comments. As a frequent communicant of the TLM liturgy, it is truly distressing to see the damage his papacy has caused to our Catholic community.