Concerned Clergy Share How They Will Respond Pastorally to ‘Fiducia Supplicans’

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, is among the clerics who said they won’t confer blessings that can be interpreted as endorsing sinful sexual behavior.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller pictured during the Holy Mass on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, in St Peter's Basilica.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller pictured during the Holy Mass on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, in St Peter's Basilica. (photo: Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio / AP)

VATICAN CITY — How might priests respond pastorally if they are faced with the possibility of having to bless a couple in a same-sex relationship or another “irregular relationship” but wish to uphold the Church’s doctrine on sexual ethics? 

Such is the dilemma they could face regularly following the publication of Fiducia Supplicans, the Dec. 18 declaration issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) allowing 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.

To better understand this new pastoral challenge, the Register asked several clergy for their views, as well as Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the DDF. 

The German cardinal stressed that “no Catholic priest can be obliged against his conscience to perform religious acts — sacraments and sacramentals, even privately and secretly — that are objectively contrary to faith and morals.”

At the same time, Cardinal Müller said a priest “should help people in sinful circumstances to find their way back” to Christ through counseling and prayer, “and with much patience and care.”

But he said a “fictitious blessing with the Sign of the Cross, which those affected perceive as justification of their behavior against the holy will, is to be avoided at all costs.” Such an act, he said, “would be blasphemy and a sin against people’s salvation because it encourages them on a path that plunges souls into ruin.”

Most priests contacted said they were concerned about issues of conscience that they believe are likely to arise in such situations.

“I think it will cause the pastor problems,” said Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, a systematic theologian.

“Some priests will be willing to bless irregular marriages and same-sex couples,” he added. “Others will not be willing. So there will be divisions and acrimony within parishes and the clergy.”

Cause of Division

Father Weinandy, who served as executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal office from 2005 to 2013, also thought that “many of the faithful will be scandalized, and rightly so,” while “others will be pleased, so, again, there will be divisions.”

“If a same-sex couple would ask me to bless them in a manner that appeared that I was blessing their sexually active relationship, I could not do it,” he said. “I cannot bless something that is immoral.”

Father Timothy Vaverek, pastor of Assumption parish in West, Texas, said he was aware of the ways in which the declaration would likely be used to “grievously mislead people” regarding sexual relations outside of a valid marriage and added that the “Vatican’s failure to discipline” those already abusing such blessings “suggests such abusive behavior will now proliferate.”

But he said he felt “no pressure” to change his own pastoral approach. Already, he said, he generally asks God’s blessings upon those who ask for them, except if he senses “an ulterior motive or an effort to use the blessing in a manipulative way.” In those cases, he said, he will “politely offer to pray with them rather than bless them.” 

Father Vaverek said he found nothing in the Pope’s declaration to suggest he should do otherwise and “certainly [it] does not require me to do so.” 

“In fact, the statement gives very specific prohibitions that I would invoke if anyone — layperson, priest or bishop — attempted to pressure me into sacrilegiously ‘blessing’ something that cannot be blessed,” he said, referring to the Vatican’s guidance that such blessings “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them,” nor with any “clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

Father Vaverek added, “Priests’ personalities vary, as do their pastoral and ecclesial circumstance, and it’s likely that some will feel, or actually be subject to, pressure to offer blessings in a false context.” But he continued that priests, as throughout history, “will have to face that with the firm purpose of the saints — and, for now at least, with the backing of the DDF. 

“Prayer coupled with faithful witness is our only path as Christians, whether lay or clergy,” he said. 

A priest close to the Vatican but speaking on condition of anonymity said he had many problems with the document, but believed priests were not being placed in a “terrible position as long as you’re clear in your mind.” He said it is already known that “we must pray for all people who are struggling in sinful situations,” but on a “case-by-case basis” he said he would be happy to “refuse, in different ways, any such couple coming to him for a blessing.” 

Another priest, also speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivities of the issue, told the Register he intends to just ignore the declaration. “If an individual person asks for a blessing, one usually gives it,” he said. “But if Derek and Clive came up, I’d say, ‘No’ and take any consequences.” 

“We won’t bless sin,” the priest said. “We can certainly bless an individual if they come to me saying, ‘I’m trying to do better and to live life according to the Gospel and the Church’s teaching.’” 

Using an analogy to explain his point, the priest said, “If a thief came to me and said, ‘Sure, I’m trying to do better; I’m off to stage a robbery: Can you bless me so I can get the family’s jewels?’ then, of course, I’d say, ‘No.’” 

“This is the nonsense,” he said. “It’s not possible, but it’s the sowing of confusion that is the worst part, because it’s deliberate, and who benefits from this change? It’s not the faithful, as they need clarity, especially in the world we’re living in. If the Church’s leaders are deliberately confusing them, which I believe they are in this case, then there’s definitely something diabolical involved.” 

Scattered Sheep

Father Weinandy also believed confusion was being sown and warned that “when the Pope does not confirm the faith, the sheep will be scattered.” 

One U.S. priest who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Register he expected pressure to be placed on pastors, both from the prevailing culture in its push to be “open, tolerant, welcoming,” as well as “woke pressure to conform to this permissiveness.” 

This means that if a priest, concerned in his conscience not to disobey God, divine law and the Church’s teaching, refuses such a blessing, he could be characterized as “hard, harsh and intolerant.” Fiducia Supplicans does not help priests in this current climate, he said, as it warns priests “to avoid being judges who only deny, reject and exclude.” 

This priest said the document also characterizes doctrines themselves as potentially dangerous and laments the “fixed nature of certain doctrinal or disciplinary schemes.” 

Fiducia Supplicans, the priest added, seems to ignore the fact that priests who are concerned with teaching “moral clarity” are so concerned because they have “the care of souls in mind and see the truth as a work of mercy.” But the declaration, he contended, “casts their reputations for pastoral care in a dim light,” which may eventually result in such priests being “consigned to the peripheries, even though many of the faithful love and appreciate them.” 

He spoke of an additional pastoral problem for priests: the pressure to remain silent, even if they are not cooperating in such blessings, and the ethical problems related to that. “Qui tacet consentire videtur — ‘silence equates to consent,’” he said, and this could result “in a kind of double pressure or double jeopardy: Either cooperate and facilitate or stay silent while others do.” 

A U.K. priest, who also asked not to be identified, expressed similar concerns.

“The whole thing leaves me dismayed,” he said, adding that he did not think Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI would have allowed such a declaration, especially one such as this, which is the result of minimal consultation and imposed on the Church outside the mechanisms of the Synod on Synodality. 

One feared possible scenario is that an activist same-sex couple may ask an orthodox Catholic priest to bless them and their relationship, and when he refuses, as they expect, the priest is then publicly denounced as committing a “hate crime.” In such a circumstance, the U.K. priest said, he would “simply and politely say, ‘No’” and take the consequences. 

A European priest took a view similar to that of Cardinal Müller, saying he would “simply refuse to commit sacrilege.” 

Meanwhile, the priest close to the Vatican said the declaration places the Church and her priests on a dangerous trajectory. “This is a slippery slope for the whole Church, as it will be very difficult for her to pull herself up again once it’s slithered down the slope,” he said. 

“Already, the Pope has gone back on what Cardinal [Luis] Ladaria [former DDF prefect] did a few years ago,” the priest said, referring to the cardinal’s 2021 response to dubia on the issue, which clearly ruled against same-sex blessings, mainly on the grounds that sin cannot be blessed. 

But he said that, through these times of crisis, he and his brother priests “feel strengthened,” as the problems associated with this document “sharpens things up.”