Orthodox and Catholic Prelates in Russia Sharply Criticize ‘Fiducia Supplicans’

The Russian Orthodox Biblical-Theological Commission and the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia were the latest to weigh in on the controversial document.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev attends the funeral of Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich Romanov on April 30, 2015, near Moscow.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev attends the funeral of Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich Romanov on April 30, 2015, near Moscow. (photo: Sasha Mordovets / Getty Images)

Russia’s Catholic bishops and members of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Biblical-Theological commission have criticized Fiducia Supplicans, Pope Francis’ declaration allowing the blessing of same-sex couples and others in “irregular relationships.” 

In a March 1 statement following a two-day plenary assembly in Listvyanka near Irkutsk in southern Russia, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia stressed that “in order to avoid temptation and confusion,” they wished to draw attention to the fact that “blessings of any kind of couples who persist in morally irregular relationships from a Christian perspective (co-habitation, remarriage, or of the same sex) are unacceptable.” 

The bishops underscored that despite the confusion following the release of the document, Catholic teaching on family and marriage “remains unchanged” and that the Church “blesses and surrounds marital unions and families with pastoral care.” 

Fiducia Supplicans (Supplicating Trust), published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) and approved by Pope Francis on Dec. 18, allows for non-liturgical blessings that are “spontaneous,” provided they aren’t connected to attire and other ceremonial trappings that would imply that the priest is sanctioning the couple’s union or lifestyle. 

The document has triggered a fierce debate in many countries, as well as within the Vatican and between bishops. The strongest opposition has come from Catholic bishops in Africa where rejection of the document has been most widespread. 

In their statement, the bishops of Russia also stressed the difference between blessings and prayers: “In the spirit of evangelical charity and maternal love, the Church has not and does not refuse intercessory prayer to individuals in a wide variety of situations, asking for God's grace to convert them, to strengthen them in their good intentions, to begin or continue the path of righteousness.”

The bishops were led by Archbishop Paul Pezzi of Moscow and the head of Russia’s bishops’ conference, Bishop Kirill Klimovich of Irkutsk. Among those attending the Feb. 28-29 meeting was the apostolic nuncio to Russia, Archbishop Giovanni D'Aniello. 


Russian Orthodox Church’s Concerns

Their statement came on the heels of a Feb. 20 online meeting of the Biblical-Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, in which the commission’s members said Fiducia Supplicans reflected a sharp departure from Christian moral teaching, according to reports.

Members of the commission at the meeting, convened by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to analyze the document, had come to the conclusion that “the Holy Scriptures cannot justify this new practice in any way.”

This was according to the commission’s chairman, Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary, who, in a Feb. 25 interview, said that although the Vatican is not going as far as Protestant churches, “all this is perceived as a very dangerous signal and a concession by the leadership of the Catholic Church to those liberal circles that are trying to dictate their agenda.”

Metropolitan Hilarion also asserted that the Vatican declaration does not expect so-called irregular couples to convert or change their lifestyle.

In a Feb. 29 interview posted on the Russian Orthodox Church’s website, the Orthodox prelate said the document “elicited an unequivocally very negative reaction” from the commission. 

He noted that the document has “already caused serious division” within the Catholic Church, and expounded on his earlier remarks, noting that Fiducia Supplicans “says nothing” about the “Sacrament of Confession, nothing about repentance or the struggle with sin.” He further observed that the word “sin” is mentioned but only in the context that sin “cannot exceed the love of God.” 

“The document postulates that the Church’s teaching on marriage as the union of a man and a woman open to procreation remains unchanged,” the Orthodox prelate said. “But at the same time, this practice of blessing same-sex couples, in our view, is in radical contradiction with Christian moral teaching.” 

Metropolitan Hilarion pointed out that Protestant communities took the same path of allowing “non-ritualized, spontaneous blessings” before introducing the ritual of same-sex blessings. He did not think the Catholic Church was “going to get to that point” but reiterated his concern that it is a “very dangerous signal.” 

The Russian Orthodox prelate, who served as head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign office from 2009 until mid-2022, told Orthodox American writer Rod Dreher in December that he was shocked by the document when it was published, adding that he thought it was “deceitful but also dangerous.” 

He said that he thought the document was “a revolution, a big change,” and that he believed it was also “a very unfortunate change because it is a trap and loophole” that will enable certain priests to bless homosexual couples. 

Hilarion speculated, “Very soon it will become a big industry in the Catholic Church because it will be on demand. Such priests will be very popular in certain circles and they will practice these blessings with permission from the Vatican.”