The most troubling aspect of Fiducia supplicans
Upon further reflection, I have concluded that the most troubling thing about the official implementation of Fiducia supplicans is not the insistence on a distinction between liturgical and personal blessings. This may or may not be magisterially new, but I suspect it has been universally understood ever since the idea of blessings developed in Judaism. Obviously, for example, those who are not legitimately marrying cannot receive the blessings that are part of the rite of matrimony, which are specifically ordered to that end. Just as obviously, anyone or any group can be blessed personally in the sense of invoking God’s aid and protection for that person or group.
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I grant that the argument is hardly bulletproof as stated in Fiducia. After all, presumably the blessing at the end of Mass is a liturgical blessing, yet it is of a type that can be safely imparted to all present, as it is not part of a sacramental ratification or a vocational purpose that goes beyond God’s more generalized personal love and care through Jesus Christ. So I leave it to theologians to consider whether the distinctions made in Fiducia supplicans about two different types or classes of blessings are adequately and fruitfully drawn in that document, or whether further reflection and clarification is required. It may well be that Fiducia is an effort to indicate a distinction between personal blessings and blessings that are intrinsic to a specific sacramental completion, but that this distinction is as yet imperfectly made.
Again, however, my most troubling issue is not that issue. For example, it is certainly more troubling that a document which purports to make important distinctions about types of blessings—which the DDF insists is the main thrust of everything that is new about the text—has tied itself so clearly and explicitly to the justification of blessings for a particular class of persons who are identified by their commitment to an objectively sinful lifestyle—and especially an objectively sinful lifestyle so highly pushed, prized and praised by our dominant Western culture. If Catholic eyebrows are not raised as Catholics discern the primary purpose of this exercise, then Catholics are oblivious to what ought to be obvious. This is true even if the text is as spiritually legitimate in its strictest interpretation as it has already proved illegitimate in its more easily predictable implementation.
But even this is not what troubles me most about the official implementation of Fiducia supplicans. Rather, what troubles me most is the reason that has now been given officially as the best and most obvious reason to withhold personal blessings from same-sex couples in those places where the local bishop judges them to be (putting it mildly) “inopportune”.
Clearly what most needed clarification in Fiducia supplicans as published was the use of the term “couples” to describe the relationship of a same-sex pair that can receive personal blessings. Nobody can seriously doubt that securing some sort of “blessed accompaniment” for such couples was the main point of the text, and that it was for precisely this purpose that the more elaborate parsing of the concept of blessings was expounded. This goal was the obvious “driver” of the text, even given the significant specific limitations in the text itself. The rather obvious textual gymnastics arise precisely because blessing two people as a “couple” would ordinarily suggest that the coupling was acceptable to the Church, which in this case (and many heterosexual cases) is impossible.
This is why I sought to protect the text from unjustified interpretations of its letter by pointing out from the first that Fiducia supplicans gave as its potentially possible examples a blessing during a meeting with a priest (that is, presumably in the context of ongoing struggle and appropriate counseling) and other situations in which the “couple” is part of a larger group (such as a blessing given to a group of pilgrims), or even (in an example given only in the DDF’s official clarification) when, in such a generalized context, two people of the same sex who may consider themselves a “couple” ask for a blessing because of trials they are facing which are unrelated morally to their coupling.
On this sort of understanding, I was able to see a valid point in Fiducia supplicans while still predicting that it would be taken as a license to encourage sin. Unfortunately, while the official response to worldwide episcopal criticism eased the pressure on faithful bishops, that response has made unmistakably clear what is to me the most troubling aspect of the document’s implementation. This was revealed in the backpedaling clarifications by DDF Prefect Victor Manuel Cardinal Fernández, where he explained the sort of situation in which a bishop actually should withhold blessings from same-sex “couples”:
The cases of some Episcopal Conferences must be understood in their contexts. In several countries there are strong cultural and even legal issues that require time and pastoral strategies that go beyond the short term. If there are laws that condemn the mere act of declaring oneself as a homosexual with prison and in some cases with torture and even death, it goes without saying that a blessing would be imprudent. It is clear that the Bishops do not wish to expose homosexual persons to violence.
The Church’s mercy…when the State and the culture permit?
This is the most troubling aspect of the implementation precisely because it is actually a specious argument designed solely to save face. The bishops who have protested the document have not cited the danger of increasing the persecution of homosexual couples. The massive error in this “clarification” is that this example, which is so carefully introduced to demonstrate an allegedly legitimate reason to withhold a blessing from same-sex “couples”, actually abandons the priestly mission of the Church more clearly than before! Does Cardinal Fernández really mean to say that when certain classes of people are targeted as criminals by the vast power of the State—or at least when certain modes of behavior are widely regarded as culturally unacceptable—that on this basis the Church can refuse pastoral ministry to such persons, in particular by withholding even spiritually salutary priestly blessings?
In other words, according to Cardinal Fernández, the posture of the State and the pressures of the dominant culture should determine when the Church’s ministers will or will not give a blessing! Do we really think that someone in a politically disallowed or socially ostracized category should be spiritually abandoned in this way? Is this what “pastoral accompaniment” means? Consider that most people reading this are even now living in militantly secular cultures in which they are in many ways politically disallowed and socially ostracized. Are we advocating that those who fall foul of civil law or popular opinion are not to be permitted to seek the solace of their pastors, or that priests should not have the courage to “accompany” their people in such situations? Or, further, are we to suppose that those receiving such blessings will get themselves into trouble by reporting them to the government?
Not unless they are government “plants”, in which case they will get only the priests into trouble….
Logically, we might shamefully assume that this exception is offered to protect priests from any unsafe pastoral accompaniment. But in reality this example gives the whole game away. In an effort to appear reasonable to those bishops who have protested the provisions of Fiducia supplicans, Cardinal Fernández—and by extension, Pope Francis—insults the Church by proposing that a blessing be withheld when it invites political or social reprisals! I challenge my readers to put this problem in any other context—that is, in any legitimate spiritual context—and then to argue that priests should withhold the blessings of God to protect themselves from socio-political blowback.
Sadly, it is precisely this kind of advice which tends to prove what so many have thought, namely that Fiducia supplicans really was issued deliberately, as we like to say, to “push the envelope”—that the goal was to increase Catholic sympathy with and approval for same-sex coupling. For it is one thing to issue a directive which, while saying something true, inadvertently makes a spiritual or moral situation worse; but it is quite another to issue a directive which adheres as closely to the truth as possible in order to deliberately make a spiritual or moral situation worse.
That is why this particular part of the “clarification” from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is the one thing that troubles me most about Fiducia supplicans—precisely because it seems, as the expression goes, to “give the game away.” I hope I am wrong, but this official clarification at least increases the already widespread impression that Fiducia supplicans is primarily an exercise in gamesmanship; that it is really directed at making the Church more acceptable to our dominant secular culture. In other words, this very clarification seems to offer strong evidence that the legitimacy granted to the blessing of same-sex couples has been deliberately calculated to increase the Western world’s acceptance of the Church. I mean by ecclesiastically encouraging a culturally-privileged class of sinners in their culturally-privileged class of sins.
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Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Jan. 10, 2024 8:03 AM ET USA
Use of language. In the present context, couple = union = proscribed use of the sexual organs between persons. Regardless of the sophistry, the goal of the document is to reverse Catholic moral doctrine. Consider my previous comments in this forum, particularly my first when the document was promulgated, which emphasized that the Church had just turned its back on the right of a priest to practice his religion. Having set aside its moral absoluteness, Catholicism lost its legal protections.
Posted by: FrHughM -
Jan. 10, 2024 3:52 AM ET USA
great point: "it goes without saying" that this, supposedly important, accompaniment, should be dropped if it's risky (which is only legit reason for African protest)! Re: you're opening: the object of blessing, according to what it is, is raised up - so it cannot be intrinsically disordered. A congregation is the local Church and so fundamentally good 'qua' that congregation. So are individual sinners. But not couples self-defined by their "mystical O."
Posted by: jxsteinke1207 -
Jan. 09, 2024 11:26 PM ET USA
More acceptance of secular ideology equals more money in the coffers for the church. Follow the money. In reading many thoughtful articulate opinions on this document , all trying to decipher its meaning so to ease the confusion, I see this document as inspired , but by an unholy spirit. Cunning, deceptive, confusing, painful, must I go on, verses the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The powers and principalities in the air have been exposed. Now the church needs to crush it. Onward Christian soldier
Posted by: jalsardl5053 -
Jan. 09, 2024 8:18 PM ET USA
"...has been deliberately calculated to increase the Western world’s acceptance of the Church." As is his letters on "climate change." Among the problems with this pope, the main one is, while he may wax pastorally, how many are aware of this amid the din and confusion he sets up with stuff like who am I to judge or FS or alarmist documents...Deum and ...Si. Thus, any value that may be had from his pastoral work is totally obliterated by these actions. Of course, this is a way to have a "legacy"
Posted by: feedback -
Jan. 09, 2024 2:56 PM ET USA
I might be a bit too cynical, but to me it seems that the insertion of an instance when a private gay blessing could be withheld was not to "protect homosexual persons from violence" but to impose on the African bishops a made-up "alibi" for their manifest strong rejection of Fiducia. That way the rift between them and pope Francis wouldn't look so bad. Which effort opened a brand new can of worms.
Posted by: Retired01 -
Jan. 09, 2024 2:23 PM ET USA
In 2021 the same DDF issued a document clearly stating that the Church cannot bless homosexual unions. Thus, there was no need for issuing FS, unless the current pontificate does not want clarity, but rather wants to create confusion--its MO. And we know who benefits from this type of confusion. I can think for example of Fr. Martin SJ among many others.