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“Fiducia Supplicans” of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings”

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith released a Declaration Fiducia Supplicans, on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, approved by Pope Francis with his signature on 18th December, 2023. The document has generated a spirited debate among Cardinals, Episcopal Conferences, Bishops, priests, lay faithful and the media, all either for or against the document. I have also reluctantly jumped into the fray of the already exhausted or possibly redundant discussion, initially for my own consumption but upon the prodding of two friends; to share with a wider audience that may still be interested in patiently reading through these pages, a tall order in a society that survives on snippets of information.

Fiducia Supplicans is a response to the “Dubia” of some Cardinals. The word “dubia” is the plural form of “dubium” a Latin word meaning “doubt.” It is meant to refer to “questions that seek clarification.” Asking questions or seeking clarification is something that is biblical, both in the old and new testaments.
The practice of bringing dubia or questions is also a very ancient practice in the Catholic Church. It is normally a request for clarity from a Dicastery or Office of the Roman Curia or even of the Holy Father himself on a matter of Church teaching, discipline, a liturgical issue or a fine point of interpreting Canon law. Cardinal Burke himself said in 2019, “The process of submitting formal questions is a venerable and well-established practice in the Church.”2
The questions most often arise from the daily issues of Church governance and liturgical and sacramental practice emanating from different experiences of the people of God in different places and contexts. In fact, dubia are a regular feature of the interaction between the Vatican’s various dicasteries and Catholic dioceses around the globe.

Why this document?
It is in answer to questions sent to the Dicastery and a response to the “dubia” or questions (literally “doubts”) presented by five cardinals, namely: Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Leo Burke supported by three other Cardinals: Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (famously dubbed as the “Dubia Cardinals”) in September 19, 2016. The questions concerned:
Whether Divine Revelation should be interpreted based on current cultural and anthropological changes.
Whether the widespread practice of blessing same-sex unions is in accordance with Revelation and the Magisterium.
Whether synodality is a “constitutive dimension of the Church, such that the Church is by nature synodal.
Regarding the support of pastors and theologians for the theory that “the theology of the Church has changed” and thus, the sacrament of ordination for women can be conferred.
Regarding the assertion that “forgiveness is a human right” and the insistence of the Holy Father on the duty to absolve everyone always, so that repentance is not a necessary condition for the sacramental absolution.

Needless to say, the question of sex in our hyper-sexed society generates the greatest attention. Hence, “Fiducia Supplicans (Supplicating Trust)”, which is a declaration on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings.

What Fiducia Supplicans actually states

  1. It remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage. It states: “The Document 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.” Pope Francis himself in his direct response to the dubia said: The Church has a very clear understanding of marriage: an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation. Only this union can be called “marriage.”
    Other forms of union realize it only in “a partial and analogous way” (Amoris Laetitia 292), so they cannot be strictly called “marriage.” He further states: “For this reason, the Church avoids any type of rite or sacramental that might contradict this conviction and suggest that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage. Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage …. and what contradicts it are inadmissible.”
  2. The document distinguishes types of blessings. There are Liturgical blessings, which are rites proposed by the Church (no.9). These require that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teaching of the Church.
    The Book of Blessings explains that “…the formulas of blessings are primarily aimed at giving glory of God for his gifts, asking for his favours and restraining the power of evil in the world.”
    To this end, the document says that care should be taken that these blessings be for “things, places, circumstances that do not contradict the law or the spirit of the Gospel.” Since, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, homosexual acts are “…acts of grave depravity…intrinsically disordered… contrary to the natural law…” 7 under no circumstances can they be approved.

The document says: “The Blessing of the Sacrament of Marriage …. is not just any blessing but a gesture reserved to the ordained minister…is tied directly to the specific union of a man and a woman, who establish an exclusive and indissoluble covenant by their consent” (no.6) When a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships by a special liturgical rite, it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.

Hence, there is no liturgical blessing on same sex unions. The document clearly states that “one should neither provide for nor promote ritual for the blessings of couples in irregular situations” (no.38).

  1. The document further broadens and enriches the meaning of blessings (no.7). This is based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, which has defined his papacy – a merciful 7 CCC 2347 11 Church. The document recognizes the fact that blessings are among the most widespread and evolving sacramentals (no.8).
    The document says that one must avoid a risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to only the Liturgical ones alone (no.12), because it would be subjected to too many moral prerequisites, which could overshadow the unconditional power of God’s love. It is for this reason that the document decides to broaden this perspective further, outside of the liturgical framework, to the realm of spontaneity and freedom.

The document recognizes the fact that these kinds of popular blessings cannot be regimented. It requires pastoral prudence and wisdom, avoiding all serious forms of scandal and confusion among the faithful. For example, if a publicly gay couple comes to me after mass asking to bless them, pastoral prudence and wisdom may demand me not to lay my hands on both of them, like I usually do, as I pray.
A simple bow and invocation of the power of God upon them for whatever their needs are and for a disposition to God’s grace may suffice. This may be different for someone who is adamantly and belligerently advocating for the recognition of their disordered and sinful relationship. I may have to say that in good conscience, I cannot bless them until they repent from their obstinacy.

Anyone with an open mind that seeks truth can see the value of Fiducia Supplicans. The Church doctrine on marriage and sex is reaffirmed in no uncertain terms. Same sex unions are rejected as a Liturgical rite. Our understanding of blessings is enhanced. It sufficiently guides the prudent and fatherly discernment of the ordained ministers in that regard.

If there are words or insinuations in the text that lend themselves to misunderstanding, like my good friend Fr Deo Ekisa says, “then eat the good side of the mango and throw out the rotten part.” For individuals and contexts that this is not an issue, there comes to mind the words of the Holy Father: “Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances should not necessarily become a norm.” (no.37). This is in keeping with the spirit of responsum ad dubium.

By Fr Alex Ojacor 

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