Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith: Press release concerning the reception of ‘Fiducia supplicans’

05 January 2024

The following is the English text of a statement released on Thursday, 4 January, by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that clarifies the application of ‘Fiducia supplicans’.

We are writing this Press Release to help clarify the reception of Fiducia supplicans, while recommending at the same time a full and calm reading of the Declaration so as to better understand its meaning and purpose.

1. Doctrine

The understandable statements of some Episcopal Conferences regarding the document Fiducia supplicans have the value of highlighting the need for a more extended period of pastoral reflection. What is expressed by these Episcopal Conferences cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition, because the document is clear and definitive about marriage and sexuality. There are several indisputable phrases in the Declaration that leave this in no doubt:

“This Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion”. One acts in these situations of couples in irregular situations “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage” (Presentation).

“Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage — which is the ‘exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children’ — and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm” (4).

“Such is also the meaning of the  Responsum  of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex” (5).

“For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice” (11).

Evidently, there is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally from this Declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous.

2. Practical reception

Some Bishops, however, express themselves in particular regarding a practical aspect: the possible blessings of couples in irregular situations. The Declaration contains a proposal for short and simple pastoral blessings (neither liturgical nor ritualised) of couples in irregular situations (but not of their unions), underlining that these are blessings without a liturgical format which neither approve nor justify the situation in which these people find themselves.

Documents of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith such as Fiducia supplicans, in their practical aspects, may require more or less time for their application depending on local contexts and the discernment of each diocesan Bishop with his Diocese. In some places no difficulties arise for their immediate application, while in others it will be necessary not to introduce them, while taking the time necessary for reading and interpretation.

Some Bishops, for example, have established that each priest must carry out the work of discernment and that he may, however, perform these blessings only in private. None of this is problematic if it is expressed with due respect for a text signed and approved by the Supreme Pontiff himself, while attempting in some way to accommodate the reflection contained in it.

Each local Bishop, by virtue of his own ministry, always has the power of discernment in loco, that is, in that concrete place that he knows better than others precisely because it is his own flock. Prudence and attention to the ecclesial context and to the local culture could allow for different methods of application, but not a total or definitive denial of this path that is proposed to priests.

3. The delicate situation of some countries

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. It remains vital that these Episcopal Conferences do not support a doctrine different from that of the Declaration signed by the Pope, given that it is perennial doctrine, but rather that they recommend the need for study and discernment so as to act with pastoral prudence in such a context.

In truth, there are not a few countries that, to varying degrees, condemn, prohibit and criminalize homosexuality. In these cases, apart from the question of blessings, there exists a great and wide-ranging pastoral responsibility that includes training, the defense of human dignity, the teaching of the Social Doctrine of the Church and various strategies that do not admit of a rushed response.

4. The real novelty of the document

The real novelty of this Declaration, the one that requires a generous effort of reception and from which no one should declare themselves excluded, is not the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations. It is the invitation to distinguish between two different forms of blessings: “liturgical or ritualized” and “spontaneous or pastoral”. The Presentation clearly explains that “the value of this document […] is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution  to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective”. This “theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church”.

In the background is found the positive evaluation of “popular pastoral care” which appears in many of the Holy Father’s texts. In this context, the Holy Father invites us to value the simple faith of the People of God who, even in the midst of their sins, emerge from their everyday lives and open their hearts to ask for God’s help.

For this reason, rather than the blessing of couples in irregular unions, the text of the Dicastery has adopted the other profile of a “Declaration”, which is much more than a responsum or a letter. The central theme, which invites us especially to a deeper pastoral practice which enriches our pastoral praxis, is to have a broader understanding of blessings and of the proposal that these pastoral blessings, which do not require the same conditions as blessings in a liturgical or ritual context, flourish. Consequently, leaving polemics aside, the text requires an effort to reflect serenely, with the heart of shepherds, free from all ideology.

Although some Bishops consider it prudent not to impart these blessings for the moment, we all need to grow equally in the conviction that: non-ritualized blessings are not a consecration of the person nor of the couple who receives them, they are not a justification of all their actions, and they are not an endorsement of the life that they lead. When the Pope asked us to grow in a broader understanding of pastoral blessings, he proposed that we think of a way of blessing that does not require the placing of so many conditions to carry out this simple gesture of pastoral closeness, which is a means of promoting openness to God in the midst of the most diverse circumstances.

5. How do these “pastoral blessings” present themselves in concrete terms?

To be clearly distinguished from liturgical or ritualized blessings, “pastoral blessings” must above all be very short (see n. 38). These are blessings lasting a few seconds, without an approved ritual and without a book of blessings. If two people approach together to seek the blessing, one simply asks the Lord for peace, health and other good things for these two people who request it. At the same time, one asks that they may live the Gospel of Christ in full fidelity and so that the Holy Spirit can free these two people from everything that does not correspond to his divine will and from everything that requires purification.

This non-ritualized form of blessing, with the simplicity and brevity of its form, does not intend to justify anything that is not morally acceptable. Obviously it is not a marriage, but equally it is not an “approval” or ratification of anything either. It is solely the response of a pastor towards two persons who ask for God’s help. Therefore, in this case, the pastor does not impose conditions and does not enquire about the intimate lives of these people.

Since some have raised the question of what these blessings might look like, let us look at a concrete example: let us imagine that among a large number making a pilgrimage a couple of divorced people, now in a new union, say to the priest: “Please give us a blessing, we cannot find work, he is very ill, we do not have a home and life is becoming very difficult: may God help us!”.

In this case, the priest can recite a simple prayer like this: “Lord, look at these children of yours, grant them health, work, peace and mutual help. Free them from everything that contradicts your Gospel and allow them to live according to your will. Amen”. Then it concludes with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons.

We are talking about something that lasts about 10 or 15 seconds. Does it make sense to deny these kinds of blessings to these two people who ask for them? Is it not more appropriate to support their faith, whether it be small or great, to assist them in their weaknesses with a divine blessing, and to channel that openness to transcendence which could lead them to be more faithful to the Gospel?

In order to avoid any doubt, the Declaration adds that, when the blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, “even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing 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. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple” (n. 39). It remains clear, therefore, that the blessing must not take place in a prominent place within a sacred building, or in front of an altar, as this also would create confusion.

For this reason, every Bishop in his Diocese is authorized by the Declaration Fiducia supplicans to make this type of simple blessing available, bearing in mind the need for prudence and care, but in no way is he authorized to propose or make blessings available that may resemble a liturgical rite.

6. Catechesis

In some places, perhaps, some catechesis will be necessary that can help everyone to understand that these types of blessings are not an endorsement of the life led by those who request them. Even less are they an absolution, as these gestures are far from being a sacrament or a rite. They are simple expressions of pastoral closeness that do not impose the same requirements as a sacrament or a formal rite. We will all have to become accustomed to accepting the fact that, if a priest gives this type of simple blessings, he is not a heretic, he is not ratifying anything nor is he denying Catholic doctrine.

We can help God’s People to discover that these kinds of blessings are just simple pastoral channels that help people give expression to their faith, even if they are great sinners. For this reason, in giving a blessing to two people who come together to ask for it spontaneously, we are not consecrating them nor are we congratulating them nor indeed are we approving that type of union. In reality the same happens when individuals are blessed, as the individual who asks for a blessing — not absolution — could be a great sinner, but this does not mean we deny him this paternal gesture in the midst of his struggle to survive.

If this is clarified as a result of good catechesis, we can free ourselves from the fear that these blessings of ours may express something inadequate. We can be freer and perhaps closer and more fruitful ministers, with a ministry that is full of gestures of fatherhood and hospitality, without fear of being misunderstood.

We ask the newly-born Lord to shower a generous and gracious blessing upon everyone so that we can live a holy and happy 2024.

Víctor Manuel Card. FERNÁNDEZ Prefect

Mons. Armando MatteoSecretary for the Doctrinal Section

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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    The most important aspect of the document is that despite its very limited content it is the first document to address gays in non-condemnatory terms. The homophobic rage it has sparked in many quarters shows how major a step this is. Of course much, much more open dialogue between lgbt folk and church teachers will be required in the decades ahead.

  2. John Cunningham says:

    Reading about eastern European and African bishops’ rejection of the Vatican’s opening to same-sex blessings, I shake my head in disbelief over how stuck and retrograde our church is—at least large swathes of it. The rigid hierarchs of these regions are an embarrassment.
    Threatened by change, they see truth as given once and for all, whole and entire in the past. Speaking in leaden phrases like, “deposit of faith,” masks their closed minds and backwardness. Ah yes, “the Church has spoken.” God forbid that it changes.
    Yet if we can say anything about our species over time and about history as we know it, it is that our understanding, indeed, changes. Truth is neither final nor finished, but awaits further discovery through our readiness and participation, even as the unfolding universe continues to surprise.
    Just imagine, our ancestors were very likely cannibals way back when. Is it our dietary tastes that have changed or, more fundamentally, our moral sensibilities that have developed?
    Through the ages we call “civilized”—and yes, in the Bible—slavery was an accepted social fact. Ancient authorities like Aristotle defended it, as called for by natural law. Aquinas cast a kinder eye on slaves and their “restricted rights,” but had no qualms about the system of bondage itself. Today, however, this barbarism—holding sway for so long and almost universally accepted—repulses us.
    Consider the subjugation of women. This degenerate regime too was enshrined everywhere, in almost every culture. It too was touted as necessary, a befitting requisite of social order, in accord with God’s will. Its influence infects the church’s power structure today. Ask yourself: who exerts authority, and who is barred? Predictably, the criterion rests on sex.
    Shall we speak of Holy Wars? These campaigns and the carnage they wrought were promoted “in the name of God” by churchmen following their skewed spiritual lights. What about the centuries of prejudice and persecution of the “perfidious Jews?” The very phrase was mandated in the Roman Missal for Good Friday, until good Pope John removed it in 1959. And don’t forget the religiously sanctioned enterprise of colonization and the horrors it visited on tribal peoples to the far-flung corners of the earth. It too, was “for Christ.”
    Thank God, we no longer think this way or do these things. Our consciousness has evolved. Where we are most at sea today in the church is in the domain of human sexuality. The strident reactions to Pope Francis’ quite meager—but compassionate—gestures to same-sex and divorced couples presage precisely where Catholic thought needs its next overhaul. The consternation and ferocity from the resistance are a definite indicator that a major shift is in the works.
    I pray this is the last gasp of these ecclesiastical Neanderthals and that Francis, having made this opening, will keep the door ajar for a more enlightened anthropology to come in and take hold. Here, the late Hans Kung shines a light. In his vision of a “global ethics,” he wrote with simple clarity that loving human relationships are good. It is exploitation of another that makes a relationship sinful. Period.
    Curiously, African bishops have no problem blessing a mindset of rabid homophobic hatred, even endorsing punitive sanctions. Likewise, many of their eastern European counterparts concur, short of approving of judicial penalties—at least not yet. Collectively, these “successors of the Apostles” insist that they are upholding the “true doctrine,” but there is no warrant in the Gospels for their exegesis.
    The church these bishops present to the world, resembles a monster, not a mother. Their project says more about them than it does the people they excoriate. Their self-righteous edge equates to the biblical “hardness of heart,” rather than to God’s “loving kindness.”
    With so many injustices besetting the human family, they engage in culture wars over gender identity, sex roles, and pronouns, exhibiting a near hysteria over all things sexual. Aiming to control people’s most personal and intimate expressions of tenderness, they issue cruel dictats and crushing judgments. Indeed, their fury at the pope’s fatherly outreach is a symptom of their sickness.
    If the church is to advance in our time, we need to match our rhetoric about human dignity with teaching and responses of Christ-like empathy—taking each brother or sister where they are, and loving and supporting them for who they are. Kung was right: where there is no exploitation, there is no sin. So, let us stop leering into the keyhole.
    Not infrequently, bishops and theologians twist themselves into pretzels trying to parse and qualify our Faith’s most sublime insights, for example, this gem from the Bible, conveyed in language a child can understand: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (I John 4:16b).
    —(Rev. Dr. John Cunningham
    County Mayo, Ireland)

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    John@2, what a brilliant article! Thank you. Please contribute more often.

  4. Joe O’Leary says:

    Why do we let the poisonous publication “Alive!” be strewn in our churches? It does a lot to imprison the minds of the faithful in fanatical attitudes, especially on abortion and lgbt questions. And why can we not provide some wholesome reading matter instead? Fiducia supplicans has revealed the massive ignorance and even hatred prevailing throughout the church towards gay men and women, with the African Bishops in particular voicing hate and fear. It is exhausting and in many cases impossible to provide them with enlightenment. A problem is the lack of forums for discussion or of social spaces where lgbt folk can make themselves known to their fellow-Catholics and share their experience. Well-heeled fundamentalists, infiltrating Africa from the USA, are another problem.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Great news. Argentina is a wonderful place — I hope the ACP takes note of the late Dermot Keogh’s masterpiece on the Irish in Argentina (which contains a moving photograph of my grandmother’s uncle, the energetic Pallotine missionary Patricio O’Grady). A supplement can be found in Dermot’s essay “Irish Missionaries in Argentina in an Age of Revolution,” in the Japan Mission Journal, Fall, 2020, which also have one of his late colleague Terry O’Reilly’s essays:
    https://www.fujisan.co.jp/product/1281702131/b/2022106 Requiescant in pace.

    The Japan Mission Journal will have a seminar, a set of brief reactions to Fiducia. If anyone here would like to contribute, please do. (joe3251517@gmail.com)

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    Soline, what you report is not good news: a Vatican document on human dignity and addressing trans issues and surrogacy. Cardinal Fernandez imagines it will allay the (pharisaic?) scandal of those who hated Fiducia supplicans: “We are preparing a very important document on human dignity that not only includes social issues, but also a strong criticism of moral issues such as sex change, surrogacy, ideologies gender, etc. In this sense, the most worried people will be able to rest.”

    The Vatican is much less prepared to deal with these issues than with the jolly old “homosexualitatis problema” of 1986. Is it paranoid to imagine that the strategy here is to throw the trans minority under the bus to appease the outraged homophobes — making them a scapegoat offering over which the gay-friendly and gay-hating sides can join hands? I urge the former not to cooperate with such a nasty attitude.

  7. Soline Humbert says:

    Joe, I do share your concerns.
    I was surprised to hear such a document from the DDF was coming down the tracks (before the October Synod?),and alarmed by Archbishop Fernández’s language and comment. I reported it as news, not good news…and certainly not “the Good News”! Wait and see.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    Soline, I did not want to suggest you saw it as good news — that was my own initial misprision based on thinking that Fernandez would be carrying Fiducia into new domains, whereas now it looks as if he is backtracking or worse. I really think the idea that trading horses in this style — “ok, you think we were too ‘liberal’ with gays, but note we are counter-balancing this with a blast against trans ‘ideology'” — is an insult to the human beings being referred to. It could also be a politician’s ploy of creating a distraction.

    We should study the disheartening performance of African Anglican bishops, their skill in bullying (cf. Tanzania 2007) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-feb-24-me-beliefs24-story.html
    The RC African bishops have come down on Fernandez like a ton of bricks following the same gang technique, and he seems to be attempting ‘appeasement.’

    The Vatican inability to provide a forum for dialogue with lgbt folk inevitably leads to such embarrassing moral and pastoral lapses. They cannot even dialogue with women, as shown in Cardinal Farrell’s disgraceful attitude to Mary McAleese and to a brave Ugandan woman, Ssenfuka Juanita Warry

  9. I agree with this document. It is simply providing a way to bless a couple who desire the Church to bless their relationship. Why do we as Church always try to turn people away. Jesus accepted anyone who wanted a relationship with him. The hierarchy better read the times and realize that the faithful expect more than rules from then. They want them to think as Jesus did. They had better stop trying to undermine the Holy Father.

  10. Joe O’Leary says:

    Joan, excellent comment. When a priest blesses a couple (as many good priests do) they are likely to say I bless your friendship (or relationship), but it is not a marriage in the church’s eyes. How has the church forgotten the word “friendship” so central to the thinking of great Doctors of the Church from Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, and Augustine down to Newman? The Vatican uses the word “union” thinking of dreaded sexual acts. The best thing is to leave such matters to people’s conscience. Same-sex friendship is a blessing whether it is marriage or not and whether it is “sexually active” or not. Many married couples and same-sex couples (regrettably) do not “have sex” any more yet their love and friendship are indefectible.

    In Japan we bless the weddings of non-Catholics — coming close to actual sacramentality. This could be drawn on by the Japanese bishops as a reference, but I fear they are too timorous.

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