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‘Fiducia Supplicans’ does not change perennial church teaching

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

On Dec. 18, 2023, I, along with probably every other bishop in the world, was contacted by the secular press to comment on “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”) — a declaration authored by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Francis.

Unlike in prior times when the Holy See was poised to promulgate a potentially important and/or controversial document, I, and I assume the vast majority of Catholic bishops around the world, did not receive an embargoed text to allow me to prepare to answer press inquiries. I instructed our communications officer that I had no comment until I had an opportunity to study the text.

I was pleased when I did serenely and carefully read the declaration to discover that the secular media’s description of the document was incorrect. The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith went to great lengths to make clear that it is not possible for the church to recognize the so-called marriages of same-sex individuals. The church cannot give a liturgical blessing to a union of persons who lack the ability or the freedom to enter into marriage.

In the case of heterosexual couples, they may lack the freedom to marry because one or both are bound by a prior marriage. In the case of same-sex individuals, marriage is not possible because they are physically incapable of the complementary sexual intimacy for which our bodies are designed nor are they capable of being co-creators of new human life through their attempts at expressions of sexual intimacy.

“Fiducia Supplicans” is clear that marriage is not possible for same-sex individuals nor can the church give a liturgical blessing to a physical union that is contrary to the moral law and, in the case of same-sex individuals, to the design and meaning of the human body. The biblical as well as the church’s teaching on sexual morality is first and foremost about integrity. In the marital embrace, a couple gives themselves physically completely to one another. That is true only if they are striving to give themselves entirely to each other in every aspect of their lives.

The sexual intimacy of the couple can only be authentic when they have pledged their lives to one another — not just for a moment or a season, but for a lifetime. Similarly, God did not make some huge mistake when he gave man and woman, through sexual intimacy, the potential for being co-creators with God of a new human life. It is in the marriage covenant, where a father loves his child’s mother and a mother loves her child’s father and together love the child — the fruit of their love — that provides the optimum environment for a child’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual welfare. 

Sexual intimacy outside the marriage covenant between one man and one woman cannot be authentic and completely honest because it is not seeking the good of the other over everything else, particularly over their own desire for physical pleasure. Gay rights activists pushed hard in their demands for secular society to grant them marital status. These same activists have also sought from the church the blessing of same-sex unions as an affirmation of the propriety of their sexual activity and as an eventual step to granting marital recognition of their relationships.

Why is there such confusion around “Fiducia Supplicans” if it is a reaffirmation of the church’s traditional teaching on marriage? Why has there been so much concern expressed within the church if it is a reaffirmation of the church’s perennial and universal teaching regarding sexual morality and the nature of marriage? Why did the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith feel a need to give a clarification about “Fiducia Supplicans” less than two weeks after its promulgation?

Part of the confusion was the result of the dicastery having an entire section in “Fiducia Supplicans” on the “Blessing of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same-Sex.” The use of the term “couples” can be understood as an acceptance of these relationships as being equal to or approximating marriage. The term “blessing of same-sex couples” appears to embrace what radical gay activists have been seeking.

In the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s clarifying press release, it asserts emphatically that “Fiducia Supplicans” did not change Catholic doctrinal teaching. The press release states: “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 marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.”

I agree with the dicastery that “Fiducia Supplicans,” properly understood, does not change the church’s moral teaching. No Vatican dicastery nor successor of Peter can change biblical teaching, the teaching of Jesus himself and the church’s consistent 2,000-year-old perennial teaching.

The Jan. 4 press release makes clear that the changes the document promotes do not alter the church’s moral teaching, but rather seek to expand the understanding of a blessing. It suggests that we call the prayers for individuals seeking God’s assistance in changing their lives to be pastoral blessings and not liturgical blessings.

Actually, what “Fiducia Supplicans” proposes has been common Catholic pastoral practice. No priest worthy of the title “Father,” would refuse to offer prayers for an individual or individuals who are sincerely asking for spiritual help in changing their lives in a way that conforms to God’s will.

Why has there been such a strong reaction to a change that some might consider to be simply semantics? The confusion regarding “Fiducia Supplicans” was predictable. Gay rights activists within and outside the church have been demanding the church’s blessing of same-sex unions as a necessary step to the church ultimately conforming to the culture and embracing same-sex marriages.

Words matter. Definitions matter. “Fiducia Supplicans” has confused many people with its attempt to expand the understanding of blessing. What the church previously might describe as a brief, spontaneous intercessory prayer asking the Holy Spirit to assist individuals seeking to conform their lives more perfectly to the Gospel and the church’s moral teaching is now termed a pastoral blessing.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith defines the proposed pastoral blessing to be necessarily short: “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.”

Who would object to praying for an individual or individuals as described by the dicastery? It is the insistence that this prayer of intercession be called a pastoral blessing of a same-sex couple that has created controversy and confusion.

I believe the great legacy of the papacy of Pope Francis will be his pushing and prodding the church to seek to bring Jesus to those on the peripheries and for Catholics to expect to encounter the living Jesus in those on the margins of society. This priority of Pope Francis has been a blessing for the church. Personally, I think that attempting to force a redefinition of blessing in a way that can be interpreted to be an accommodation to woke culture does not help to advance this great pastoral priority.

 In the Archdiocese of Kansas City, I urge our priests and deacons to treat everyone, including those who struggle with same-sex attraction, with the respect due to one created in the divine image and for whom Jesus gave his life on Calvary. I encourage all of our clergy to welcome the opportunity to pray with and for anyone seeking to conform their lives to the Gospel of Jesus and the clear and consistent moral teaching of his church. I also urge our clergy to be vigilant in striving never to cause confusion about the true nature of marriage or the church’s moral teaching on authentic love. In our overly sexualized culture, wounded by the tragic consequences of the so-called sexual revolution, we must strive to be witnesses to the joy and beauty of chaste love consistent with our state of life. Two excellent resources for those with same-sex attraction striving to live chastely are Courage and Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministry.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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  • This column is hardly more than mere wordy gobbled gook.
    Interpret as you wish, but it is abundantly clear that our current papal leadership is absolutely embracing the existence of and moral sanctity of same-sex love.
    From Pope Francis’ previous statement of “who am I to judge” to this latest declaration of same sex blessings, his embracing of all mankind is both refreshing and encouraging and I’m sure inspired by his awareness of the Holy Spirit.
    Your statements dangerously insinuate that a “blessing” can prayerfully achieve the old school idea of conversion therapy, thereby “purifying” the individuals. How out of touch will you continue to be? Look around, your church is depleting in droves and it is not a turn away from our spirituality and towards woke (as you call it), its a turn away from the gross manipulation of your “flock” by the establishment. ugh.

  • On the intellectual level: well explained. On the moral level – miserable. From the time of Christ until today, the Church has not given the blessings of the sort: for a good reason. The bishop would do well to read Romans 1 again: “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another… Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another… Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done… Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

  • A well thought out commentary, but it falls short of a clear pastoral directive. The reader must wait until the last paragraph before you give a somewhat dissembled opinion. A much more succinct response is needed to FS and its subsequent ‘clarification’.

  • Thank you Archbishop for these words. From the very beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has made informal and formal ambiguous statements. These have allowed many in the Church to run with their own preferred interpretations. FS seems to be another one, with staged blessings of homosexual couples photographed by the New York Times the day after it was issued. Apparently, some priests were in the know! I listen to the radio show “The Catholic Current” hosted by Fr. Robert McTeague, SJ. He spent 5 days discussing FS with well informed people. At the conclusion of these shows, he cited the “Overton Window” and how it applied to secular acceptance of homosexual marriage. The Overton Window describes how society changes its view of controversial issues and has been described as this progression:


    With this Pope, and many Church leaders in the West so focused on homosexuality, is this where FS is intended to go in the Church?

  • This entire article is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the implications and importance of Fiducia Supplicans. On December 17, 2023, a priest would not have been permitted to bestow a blessing on a gay couple. Now they may.

    The implication that Pope Francis and the Church have taken this action in an attempt “to force a redefinition of blessing in a way that can be interpreted to be an accommodation to woke culture” is an American political conservative opinion. Not the sentiment of the Catholic Church or our Holy Father, neither of whom view the world or our eternal life in Christ through a lens of what is “woke” and what is not.

    • The summary of Fiducia Supplicans (FS) is excellent and I agree also with the comment: “…the great legacy of the papacy of Pope Francis will be his pushing and prodding the church to seek to bring Jesus to those on the peripheries and for Catholics to expect to encounter the living Jesus in those on the margins of society. This priority of Pope Francis has been a blessing for the church.”

      However on December 17, 2023 a priest was permitted to bestow a blessing on persons in plural, also gay couples, provided that such blessing was not intended as a blessing of a homosexual union which is objectively immoral. This situation has not changed on 18 December. Not only the archbishop of Kansas is clear on this, but also of the author of FS Cardinal Fernandez who repeatedly has restated the unchanged moral position of our Church in this matter. That is the essence of FS and then there can be room for discussing if FS is a clever way of restating this moral position and the function of blessings once again. Hopefully and optimistically this could be the final and concluding affermation. If that happens FS has had its function. The discussions about the moral implications of practicing homosexuality in the Catholic Church can be closed and the Church – we – can go on leaving this divisive issue behind. But that requires that all cartholics accept FS as it is written and does not try to twist its meaning.