The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Monday published Fiducia supplicans, a declaration which creates a framework for blessing same-sex couples.
While the text insists those blessings are not to be liturgical events, or resemble marriage, headlines around the world have framed the text as the beginning of a new era, and some Catholics have expressed concern that the text might prompt a schism.
But few Catholics have actually read the text yet, and many have questions about what it actually says.
You’ve got questions, The Pillar has answers.
Did the pope just permit gay marriage?
Fiducia supplicans says clearly that that the Vatican does not intend to permit same-sex marriage, or anything that resembles it — and says that the Church does not actually have the power or authority to do that.
While the text does create a framework for blessing gay couples, it says that those blessings should not be confused with marriage, or even with approval of same-sex unions, or homosexual activity.
In fact, the text says that “rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage—which is the ‘exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children’—and what contradicts it are inadmissible,” and should be avoided.
“This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.”
So what is Fiducia supplicans about then?
The document says that when people come spontaneously to ask for a blessing, they “show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations.”
It encourages that couples asking for blessings be given them — not to validate immorality, but to validate their desire for God’s presence in their lives.
Blessings, Fiducia supplicans says, are a “pastoral resource to be valued rather than a risk or a problem.”
“Pastoral prudence and wisdom — avoiding all serious forms of scandal and confusion among the faithful — may suggest that the ordained ministry join in the prayer of those persons who, although in a union that cannot be compared in any way to a marriage, desire to entrust themselves to the Lord and his mercy, to invoke his help, and to be guided to a greater understanding of his plan of love and truth.”
Among those persons, the document says, might be Catholics in same-sex relationships.
So what kind of blessings does it have in mind?
The text emphasizes repeatedly that there can be no rite or rubric to bless same-sex couples. Instead it says that if such couples request a blessing, one can be given that “unites intercessory prayer with the invocation of God’s help by those who humbly turn to him.”
“God never turns away anyone who approaches him,” the text emphasizes, “indeed, the grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else.”
Emphasizing that such couples can receive a blessing, the text says that “these non-ritualized blessings [should] never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God” and that pastors should be “careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.”
Ok, but won’t people think that a blessing for a gay couple is basically an endorsement of their relationship, or a kind of Catholic gay marriage?
The document insists that that doesn’t have to be the case.
“Precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them.”
Further, blessings can not be “performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”
So what would those blessings look like?
The text says they might be celebrated on “a visit to a shrine,” or during “a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage.”
It emphasizes that “through these blessings that are given not through the ritual forms proper to the liturgy but as an expression of the Church’s maternal heart—similar to those that emanate from the core of popular piety—there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”
What happens now?
That’s hard to say.
Bishops in several European countries have in recent months permitted liturgical blessings for same-sex couples. While the text says such liturgical blessings are not permitted, it remains to be seen whether the Vatican will crack down on them.
If the text is followed by Vatican intervention on liturgical blessings of same-sex couples, it is possible that the document will eventually be seen as more restrictive than the current practice in some parts of the Church.
But if the Vatican doesn’t act on liturgical blessings — which defy its actual text — Fiducia supplicans might well be remembered for a broad normalization of same-sex liturgical blessings — a concern many Catholics have expressed in the hours since its publication, with some expressing concern that the DDF’s text could prompt a schism among bishops.
It remains to be seen which way things will go.