The Vatican on December 18 published a text, Fiducia supplicans (link) which may go down as the most controversial and most ecumenically damaging document of Pope Francis‘ pontificate.

    At some point it will be necessary for the good of the entire Christian world, to explain more fully the genesis and drafting of this text, but for now it seems important to study in detail the reasons why the text has generated such a negative reaction from non-Catholic Christians, some of whom have said they will halt discussions aimed at overcoming the divisions between Christian after the publication of this text.

    The Coptic Orthodox Church, for example, has temporarily suspended all ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church due to Fiducia supplicans.

    “After consulting with the sister churches of the Eastern Orthodox family,” a March 7 statement from the Church’s Holy Synod said (in Point 6), “it was decided to suspend the theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, reevaluate the results achieved by the dialogue from its beginning twenty years ago, and establish new standards and mechanisms for the dialogue to proceed in the future.” (link)

    In a February statement, the Catholic bishops of Russia that they also oppose Fiducia supplicans, saying: “In order to avoid temptations and confusion, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia (CCER) draws attention to the fact that the blessing of any type of couples who live in irregular relationships – cohabitation, bigamy, homosexuality – is unacceptable, link.”

    The, on February 20, the Russian Orthodox joined in condemning the document (link).

    Now, three days ago, on March 25, the Russian Orthodox Church has published a further, lengthy critique of the Vatican text (see below).    

    At a time when Pope Francis has, courageously and against many critics, been seeking — after more than two years of war — to help launch peace talks to end the conflict between the Russians and Ukrainians, this Russian reaction on a theological matter directly undercuts the peace talks initiative, which Francis has said publicly is one of his most urgent concerns.

    Objectively, the leadership of the Vatican seems to be taking uncoordinated and contradictory steps, undercutting in the process its own most-cherished plans, publishing a controversial document that is creating divisions when divisions needed to be avoided at all costs.

    In this sense, the publication of the December 18 “same-sex blessings” document seems likely to have greatly increased the difficulty, or even made impossible, a peace initiative that Francis has said is profoundly important to him.

    Indeed, one wonders whether any other move, at this precise time, could have more effectively diminished the possibility of success for Francis’ peace intiative.

    It almost seems like… an act of sabotage.

    So here is the complete text of the official critique from the Russian Orthodox Church — the most numerous of all the 15 Orthodox national Churches, and so in this sense a very influential Orthodox Church — which has just been published. (It is dated March 25, 2024, three days ago.)

    I write from Norcia, Italy, where I have just attended a solemn liturgy for Holy Thursday celebrated by the Benedictine monks of this city, where St. Benedict was born in 480 A.D. (link). I discussed the liturgy in a podcast with Fr. Charles Murr which was posted a few minutes ago on our YouTube channel “Urbi et Orbo Communications” here.

    A blessed Holy Week to all. —RM

    The complete text of the document, which may be consulted here.

    On the Orthodox attitude to the new practice of blessing “couples in an unsettled situation and same-sex couples” in the Roman Catholic Church

    March 25, 2024 05:25 p.m.

    The document was prepared by the Synodal Biblical Theological Commission


    The new practice of blessing “unsettled and same-sex couples” 1  is presented in the document “Fiducia supplicans” (Latin for “Invoking Trust”) adopted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church. The document was published on official Vatican resources on December 18, 2023. It is signed by the Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Manuel Fernandez, and the Secretary of the Doctrinal Department, Armando Matteo, and approved and signed by Pope Francis.

    The declaration “Fiducia supplicans” is a response to questions from the Catholic public regarding the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the blessing of “same-sex couples” dated February 22, 2021, 2 which explicitly stated the impossibility of blessing “same-sex unions.” In the new document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by the Pope, this unambiguous position is changed: it is proposed to recognize the blessing of couples in an “unsettled situation” and “same-sex cohabitation” as possible under certain conditions.

    The ideas expressed in the declaration of “Fiducia supplicans” represent a significant deviation from Christian moral teaching and require theological analysis.

1. About the “classical” and “expanded” understandings of blessing in this document

    The key attribute of the blessing, according to the declaration, is the focus of this act on “the glorification of God and the spiritual benefit of His people” 3. The “classical”  understanding of blessing “requires that what is blessed corresponds to the will of God as expressed in the teaching of the Church” 5.

    However, the further logic of the declaration is aimed at “expanding” and “enriching” the classical understanding of the meaning of blessings. The basis for this new understanding is the opinion of Pope Francis regarding the possibility of “forms of blessing requested by one or more persons that do not carry a misconception about marriage” 6. This opinion was expressed in “Answers to Questions Proposed by Two Cardinals,” published on the official Vatican website in 2023 7. It included a call to “not lose pastoral charity… and not to be ‘judges who merely deny, reject, exclude’” 8, which prompted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to formulate “a special and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, which allows them to expand and enrich their classical understanding with liturgical point of view” 9.

    The “expansion” of the understanding of blessings is based only on the thesis that multiple moral attitudes “can obscure the unconditional power of God’s love on which the gesture of blessing is based” 10. Based on this thesis, the authors of the declaration propose to avoid situations where “a simple blessing would require the same moral conditions as for receiving the sacraments” 11.

    The absence of moral requirements for those who are blessed is justified by the desire not to overshadow the love of God. However, God’s love for man cannot serve as a basis for blessing couples who are in sinful cohabitation. God loves man, but also calls him to perfection: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God’s love for man calls him to renounce the sin that destroys his life. Accordingly, pastoral care for a person must harmoniously combine a clear indication of the inadmissibility of a sinful lifestyle with love that leads to repentance.

    The document does not clarify what an “unsettled situation” means. Since “same-sex couples” are singled out as a separate category, it can be assumed that by “unsettled situation” we mean such cohabitation of a man and a woman that is not sanctified by the sacrament of Marriage.

    The Fiducia supplicans document says nothing about the need to canonically “settle” the relationship before receiving the blessing. Consequently, we are talking about introducing a certain form of indirect legitimation of what, in essence, is illegitimate, despite the clause made in the document that, by asking for such a blessing, a person in an “unsettled” cohabitation allegedly “does not intend to legitimize anything, but only opens his life to God, asks for His help to live better, and also calls on the Holy Spirit so that the values ​​of the Gospel can be lived with greater fidelity” 12.

    The concept of sin appears several times in the declaration, but exclusively in the context of discussions about God’s love, forgiveness and blessing: “the sin of the world is enormous, but it is not infinite” 13; “therefore, we are more important to God than all the sins that we can commit” 14; “When a person realizes the gifts of the Lord and His unconditional love, even in situations of sin, especially when a prayer is heard, the heart of the believer praises God and blesses Him” 15; “the very liturgy of the Church calls us to such a trusting attitude even in the midst of our sins” 16; “even if your relationship with God is marred by sin, you can always ask for blessing by reaching out to Him, as Peter did during the storm” 17.

    The Declaration says nothing about the fight against sin, about renouncing a sinful lifestyle, or about pastoral assistance to the believer in overcoming sin. The text of the declaration is compiled in such a way that one can conclude from it that a sinful lifestyle does not serve as an obstacle to communion with God. The Declaration is completely silent about the sacrament of Repentance as a necessary source of receiving Divine grace for everyone who would like to correct everything in their lives that is inconsistent with the will of God.

    The opinion of Pope Francis on the motives of those who ask for blessings, given in the declaration, deserves special attention: “When a person asks for a blessing, he turns to God for help, this is a prayer to live better, trust in the Father, who can help us live better.” 18 In relation to the situation with the blessing of a couple living in a sinful union, we cannot agree that everyone who comes for the blessing is guided by precisely this motive. For people who are aware of the spiritual danger of their condition and want to turn to God for help, it would be more natural and correct to seek blessings and spiritual help not as a couple, but individually, in order to strengthen their determination to break with a sinful way of life. It is likely that a couple asking for blessings without expressing a desire to renounce a sinful lifestyle would like to receive legitimization of their relationship, which does not correspond to the norms of Christian life, to calm their conscience.

2. About the blessing of “same-sex couples”

    The authors of the declaration state that the Catholic Church proceeds from the understanding of marriage as “an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the birth of children.” 19 This understanding of marriage corresponds to Orthodox teaching, expressed, in particular, in the document of the Russian Orthodox Church “On the canonical aspects of church marriage”: “The Church categorically does not recognize and does not recognize unions of persons of the same sex as marriage, regardless of the recognition or non-recognition of such by civil law, as well as other forms of cohabitation that do not correspond to the previously given definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.” 20

    However, along with affirming the inviolability of the understanding of marriage as a union of a man and a woman blessed by the Church, the text of “Fiducia supplicans” proclaims the possibility of blessing “same-sex couples.” The entire section of the document devoted to these blessings is in radical conflict with Christian moral teaching.

    The document, in fact, equates cohabitation between persons of the same sex to extramarital heterosexual cohabitation. Meanwhile, extramarital cohabitation between persons of different sexes is reflected in the canon law of the Catholic Church, while the blessing of “same-sex couples” is a new phenomenon.

    To receive the blessing, persons in such cohabitation do not require, according to the document, any changes in lifestyle. Without any preconditions, those “who, recognizing themselves as destitute and in need of His help, do not claim the legitimacy of their status, but ask that everything that is true, good and humanly valid in their lives and relationships be complemented, healed and uplifted by the presence Holy Spirit” 21 can receive the blessing that is sent “so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel message, free themselves from imperfection and weakness, and express themselves in the wider dimension of Divine love.” 22

    This application of the “expanded” understanding of blessings to “same-sex couples” causes fundamental disagreement. If the blessing is intended to heal human relationships by the presence of the Holy Spirit, then such healing in this case can only be the cessation of sinful relationships. In order to “mature and grow in faithfulness to the gospel message,” such a couple must abandon relationships that are not consistent with that message. Otherwise, blessing becomes an excuse for sin. Thus, the logic of the declaration can be assessed as contrary to Christian moral teaching.

    It should also be noted that persons in sinful unions are called “dispossessed” 23 as if a moral defect does not imply their conscious and free choice. The emphasis shifts from understanding the fact of the sinner making a moral decision to the disastrous nature of his situation.

    The Fiducia supplicans document does not define “same-sex cohabitation” as sinful. An opposite example in this case can be the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which gave an understanding of same-sex relationships in the document “Fundamentals of a Social Concept,” where homosexuality is directly and unequivocally called “sinful damage to human nature, which is overcome in spiritual effort leading to healing and personal growth of a person.” 24

    The document equates the blessing of “same-sex couples” with the blessing of couples in an “unsettled situation.” In both cases, this blessing is taken beyond the framework of the sacrament of Marriage, as well as beyond the framework of fixed liturgical rites. Moreover, the practical recommendations contained in the document are no less ambiguous than the theological positions from which they stem.

    In the words of the document, “Prudence and pastoral wisdom may dictate that, while avoiding serious forms of temptation or embarrassment among the faithful, the ordained minister should join in the prayers of those people who, although in a union that cannot be compared to marriage, desire to entrust themselves to the Lord and His mercy, to call upon His help, and to be directed to a greater understanding of His designs of love and truth.” 25  The form of blessing used for persons in “unsettled situations” and for “same-sex couples” “should not be ritually reinforced by church authorities, so as not to cause confusion with the blessing inherent in the sacrament of marriage.” 26

    In other words, the authors of the declaration see the danger not in the “unsettled situation” or “same-sex cohabitation” itself, but in the temptation, embarrassment or confusion that may arise among believers as a result of the fact that the blessing given by the priest will outwardly resemble the sacrament of Marriage. To avoid the same consequences, the declaration specifies that the blessing of such couples “is not part of the liturgical rite” 27.

    The way out of the contradiction between, on the one hand, Church teaching about marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and on the other, the “innovative” practice of blessing “same-sex couples” being introduced, is seen by the authors of the declaration to be that such blessings should be “spontaneous.” “: “The pastoral sensitivity of ordained clergy must also be developed in order to spontaneously administer blessings which are not contained in De Benedictionibus” 28.

The clergy are thus directly encouraged to invent rites not found in the liturgical collection De Benedictionibus (On the Blessings), which contains rites of blessing for people of different social groups and statuses. The blessing of “same-sex couples,” as well as couples in “unsettled” relationships, is placed on a par with the blessing of various social groups. However, this approach again ignores the need for what is being blessed to agree with the will of God. Instead, priests are invited to “spontaneously” 29  bless couples who are in cohabitation that is contrary to the moral teaching of the Church.

    The concern that “these non-ritualized blessings… do not become a liturgical or para-liturgical act like a sacrament” 30 appears repeatedly in the document in various forms. But the explanation for this concern is given as follows: “It would be a serious impoverishment, since it would subject a gesture of great value in popular piety to excessive control, which would deprive ministers of freedom and spontaneity in the pastoral care of people’s lives.” 31

    In other words, as follows from the document, the danger is not that the blessing of such couples will look like an approval of cohabitation that is unlawful from the point of view of the Church, but only that if it is close to established liturgical forms, it will give excessive formalism to the act, which is thought of as “spontaneous”.

    It is for this reason, according to the authors of the document, that “the ritual of blessing couples in an unresolved situation should neither be encouraged nor offered.” This blessing “should never be performed either in conjunction with or in connection with a civil marriage ceremony. Neither should dress, gestures or words befitting marriage be used. The same applies to cases where the blessing is sought by a same-sex couple.” Such a blessing, according to the document, can be taught in contexts such as “a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer said in a group or during a pilgrimage” 32.

    All of the above recommendations represent an attempt to avoid recognizing “same-sex cohabitation” as sinful, to avoid indicating the need to abandon a sinful lifestyle, and instead create the illusion that a conscious choice in favor of a sinful lifestyle does not deprive a couple of God’s blessing.

3. Reaction to the declaration in the Catholic world

    The declaration “Fiducia supplicans” caused widespread resonance in the Catholic world. Representatives of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church and sexual minorities responded positively to it. At the same time, many traditional Catholics are deeply disappointed by the declaration. Various local structures of the Catholic Church also express their disagreement with it.

    In particular, the statement of the Catholic Archdiocese in Astana dated December 19, 2023 reads: “Such a blessing directly and seriously contradicts the Revelation of God and the inextricable two thousand years of teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. Blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples is a grave abuse of the most holy name of God, for it is called upon the official sinful union of adultery or homosexual act. ” 33

    The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, in a statement dated December 20, 2023, stressed that “the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage remains unchanged. Thus, in church teaching there is no possibility of blessing same-sex unions” 34.

    According to the statement of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference on December 27, 2023, “all people, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, can be blessed individually, but a general blessing of couples living together in a simple partnership, in a non-ecclesiastical marriage or in a same-sex marriage should always be avoided.” union” 35.

    The statement of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Belarus dated February 1, 2024 states: “The Catholic Church in Belarus does not intend to implement in practice the possibility proposed by the Declaration of blessing couples living in an irregular union and same-sex couples… An extra-liturgical blessing can be given to everyone who requests it. However, it is always necessary to avoid blessing specifically couples living in a so-called civil marriage, as well as those living in canonically invalid marriages or same-sex couples. Such a blessing may be perceived by other believers as consent to sin” 36.

    The information message about the LIX meeting of the Plenary Assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia (KKER), held on February 28-29, 2024, states: “Taking into account the misunderstandings that have arisen regarding the declaration of Fiducia supplicans, KKER considered it necessary to emphasize that Catholic doctrine on family and marriage remains unchanged… To avoid temptation and confusion, KKER draws attention to the fact that blessings of any kind of couples who persist in relationships that are not regulated from the point of view of Christian morality (cohabiting, second-married, same-sex) are unacceptable.” 37


    The Declaration of Fiducia supplicans, while formally declaring fidelity to the Christian understanding of the sacrament of Marriage and the practice of blessings, actually postulates a sharp departure from this fidelity. As can be seen from the above analysis, this departure means a rejection of the Christian moral ideal.

    The introduction of a new understanding, in addition to the “classical” understanding of blessings (associated with the fulfillment of the will of God by those who are blessed), is not substantiated by the Holy Scriptures in the text of the document. There cannot be such a justification, since, in essence, the introduced practice of blessings is in radical contradiction with biblical moral teaching.

    From a theological point of view, the one-sided and incomplete understanding of God’s love for man, reflected in this declaration, seems very dangerous. In this understanding, the concepts of sin and repentance are actually removed from the relationship between God and man, which leads to such a paradoxical logic when people in sinful relationships resort not to repentance and spiritual work, but to some form of blessing in the hope of receiving “healing” and “elevation”. At the same time, the declaration does not articulate the fact that “healing” and “exaltation” must be preceded by at least the intention to renounce sinful relationships.

    In the context of the processes taking place in the Christian community, this document can be perceived as a step towards the full recognition of “same-sex unions” by the Roman Catholic Church as the norm, which has already happened in a number of Protestant communities.

    All believers, including those with homosexual aspirations, need pastoral care. However, this pastoral care should not be aimed at legitimizing a sinful lifestyle, but at healing the soul of the suffering, as it is rightly written about this in the “Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”: “Homosexual aspirations, like other passions that torment fallen man, are healed by the Sacraments , prayer, fasting, repentance, reading the Holy Scriptures and patristic works, as well as Christian communication with believers who are ready to provide spiritual support. While treating people with homosexual inclinations with pastoral responsibility, the Church at the same time resolutely resists attempts to present a sinful tendency as a “norm. ” 38

    Despite the fact that the declaration “Fiducia supplicans” is an internal document of the Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church considers it its duty to respond to such radical innovations that reject the divinely revealed norms of Christian morality. The Church, with maternal love and condescension accepting every individual sinner asking for her blessing, cannot bless “same-sex couples” in any form, since this would mean the actual consent of the Church to a union that is sinful in nature.

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