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.