‘Fiducia Supplicans’ Raises a ‘Couple’ of Concerns

The new Vatican document repeatedly refers to those in ‘irregular situations’ and same-sex arrangements as ‘couples’ — and that’s a problem

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández (r), prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, attends a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández (r), prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, attends a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. (photo: Andreas Solaro / AFP via Getty Images)

The Dec. 18 release of Fiducia Supplicans by the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, has swiftly elicited many strong and varied reactions and interpretations in the Church. 

The central purpose of the declaration is to permit the blessing of “couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples” while setting limits within which clergy may properly give such blessings. 

The declaration states that while “spontaneous” informal blessings of such couples are permissible within certain parameters, formal liturgical blessings and any blessings that are likely to give the appearance of approving illicit unions are not. 

There are certainly many angles and facets to this document that deserve careful analysis and consideration, including the possibility that Fiducia Supplicans was designed, at least in part, to navigate a middle way to help mitigate the possibility of a schism with German and Belgian bishops over this issue. However, this article will focus on the central issue of blessing ”couples in irregular situations and same sex couples,” as couples, and some of the concerns this poses. 

A key distinction Cardinal Fernández makes in Fiducia Supplicans in order to provide a justification for the blessing of such “couples” seems most evident in section 31-33, excerpted below:

Within the horizon outlined here appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex … a blessing may be imparted that not only has an ascending value but also involves the invocation of a blessing that descends from God upon those who — recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help — do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit — what classical theology calls “actual grace” — so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.
Indeed, the grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else. 

Here, it seems clear Cardinal Fernández is suggesting that the blessing is not upon the sinful aspect of the relationship, per se (which he refers to as “imperfections and frailties”), but rather, upon what is good or “valid” in it, humbly seeking God's help in moving toward a holier, more godly relationship.

This seems difficult to reconcile with the DDF’s 2021 “Responsum” on this same distinction, which says:

It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex. The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan

Aside from this apparent contradiction, two primary concerns struck me about sections 31-33, both of which center on the use of the word “couple,” which in English naturally connotes a romantic nature to the relationship.

An Objective Obstacle

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?

What Is a ‘Couple?’

Second, Fiducia Supplicans refers to blessing “couples” in “irregular situations” (heterosexual) and also those “of the same sex.”

I think Cardinal Fernández’s explanation could perhaps be more easily understood in regard to many or even most heterosexual couples in “irregular situations,” because the sexual nature of the relationship is not “objectively disordered” (Catechism 2358). An unmarried heterosexual couple can remedy the “irregularity” in their sexual relationship by simply getting married, or refraining from sexual relations until they are married. They could potentially grow in holiness together by means of a blessing, while maintaining romantic interest and even eventually consummating that interest. 

A divorced-and-remarried couple that has not obtained an annulment can do likewise by seeking an annulment and then having their marriage convalidated. However, it’s more difficult to see how Fiducia Supplicans properly applies to heterosexual, divorced and remarried people who have been denied an annulment, because the impediment to their marriage and hence sexual union seems insurmountable. As such, how could they potentially grow in holiness from a blessing, “as a couple?” That being said, at least their sexual interest in one another is not “objectively disordered” — which leads to the question of same-sex “couples.”

Again, the word “couple” in English (which appears to be the correct translation of the original Italian), typically connotes a romantic nature to the relationship. As same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered” (Catechism 2358), then it is difficult to see how blessing two same-sex people, as a “couple,” can help them to grow in holiness together. There is no way for them to validly remain a “couple” at all. Therefore, to truly grow in holiness, they would have to move toward a non-romantic, non-sexual relationship — in other words, they would have to become friends, not a “couple.”

Perhaps the word “relationship” instead of “couple” could help to mitigate this particular concern to an extent because it provides the possibility of growing holier by transitioning from a romantic relationship to a platonic relationship. But the word “couple” doesn’t really allow such a possibility. However, if the sexual relationship between two men or two women becomes holy, then their identity as being same-sex attracted is no longer even relevant, really. For example, we don’t refer to “heterosexual friendships.” Pure friendships, by definition, are not sexual. 

Perhaps another example may help to illustrate the difficulty involved in blessing a same-sex “couple.” If a brother and sister or an adult with a minor desired to be blessed as a “couple,” would it be permissible to bless them, focusing on what is “good and humanly valid” in them, while hoping the Holy Spirit will help them “mature and grow” so they are freed from “imperfections and frailties?” If not, exactly what in the logic and theology of Fiducia Supplicans would preclude it?

Clarity Is Needed

As a deacon, it would be tremendously helpful to gain further clarification on Fiducia Supplicans from the Church. Considering the importance and sensitive nature of the issues involved, it’s crucial to be clear about what those coming to us for such blessings should expect and how we should respond, as well as the reasons why, especially should we need to charitably explain to those seeking such blessings. A lack of clarity is almost certain to result in inconsistencies in practice, as well as misunderstandings that will inevitably — and ironically — lead to offending the very people Fiducia Supplicans intends to welcome and reach with the mercy of Christ. 

As the Church grapples with Fiducia Supplicans, we should prayerfully exercise patience and not allow any controversy or frustration to lead us to violate charity or lose confidence in Christ’s promises of protection upon his Church. While we all have the right and even sometimes the duty to express our concerns to the hierarchy and to one another, canon law also makes clear we must always do so with a filial spirit — showing “due reverence” to our pastors. 

Certainly, all faithful Catholics share a common desire to draw as many souls as possible to Christ, the Divine Physician, and to his Church, while firmly upholding both truth and charity for all in such difficult circumstances. 

As the renowned Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange once so beautifully expressed it: “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves.”