Reactions are emerging around the world to Monday’s declaration from the Vatican’s doctrine office on “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples.”
The 5,000-word document Fiducia supplicans caused immediate controversy when it was issued Dec. 18 because it gave the green light, with caveats, to the “spontaneous” blessing of couples in unions other than marriage.
Here’s a brief guide to who’s saying what, by country:
The Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé in Central Africa expressed “perplexity” at the declaration.
“Regarding informal blessings for ‘irregular couples’ (homosexuals), although it is a sacrament different from the liturgical blessing, we consider that, in our cultural and ecclesial context, it would create enormous scandal and confusion among the faithful, so we have determined that it should not be carried out in Angola and São Tomé,” the bishops said.
Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, said in a statement published Dec. 30 that the declaration on blessings “has to do with rediscovering and revaluing its meaning.”
“When someone asks for a blessing on the street or in a sanctuary, I never ask them if they are married in the Church or what their sexual condition is. It would be totally out of context,” he wrote.
“When a young woman comes to ask me to bless her pregnancy, to bless her belly, I have never stopped to ask where that child came from, whether it was from an irregular union or not. Denying the blessing would be experienced as a profound experience of rejection.”
“A brutal experience of abandonment by the Church that has done so much harm to us and that has alienated so many brothers and sisters. Living in an irregular situation or carrying out a homosexual union does not obscure many aspects of the lives of people who seek to be enlightened with a blessing and upon receiving it, this becomes the greatest possible good for these brothers since it leads to conversion.”
He added: “Surely those bishops and ministers who have disagreed with this declaration have not lived this experience of blessing in the context of popular piety or have not been able to have this prior dialogue where the need for God’s mercy is experienced in one’s own life.”
“The declaration does not give rise to confusion. It perfectly distinguishes the liturgical area where a sacrament is given, from the area of popular piety. To confuse this blessing with permission or approval of a lifestyle would be reductionism and would deny the need for good that aspects of people’s lives have.”
The Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy said in a Dec. 23 statement that “authentic pastoral and spiritual care can never be divorced from an unambiguous presentation of God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage since this plan, though challenging for some to accept, is essential for human flourishing and so is a gift rather than a burden.”
It went on: “Ordained priests are ministers of God’s blessings given to sanctify the human person and build up all that is true, good, and beautiful in human life. While sinful human persons who seek God’s mercy are authentic recipients of God’s blessings, such blessings of their nature are ordered to communion with God; to conversion and sanctification, and so can never be bestowed on sinful acts nor legitimize relationships that are intrinsically incompatible with the divine plan.”
Asked how priests should respond to a same-sex couple’s request for a blessing, Archbishop Franz Lackner replied: “Basically, one can no longer say no.”
Commenting on why the declaration was issued, the president of Austria’s bishops’ conference said: “I believe that the Church recognizes that a relationship between two of the same sex is not entirely without truth: there is love, there is loyalty, there is also hardship shared and lived in faithfulness. This should also be recognized.”
Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny, who encouraged participants in Germany’s synodal way to endorse a resolution on same-sex blessings in March, welcomed the declaration.
“It helps us move forward,” he said, according to Belgium’s De Standaard newspaper.
Geert De Kerpel, spokesman for the Flemish bishops — who published a text for same-sex blessings in 2022 — told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper Dec. 19: “This is a very big breakthrough because it comes from the highest body of the Church and because it also explicitly says that same-sex couples can therefore have the blessing.”
He added: “Since the Flemish bishops took the position that they were in favor of that, it was already possible here in Flanders. It is a great help that the Vatican now confirms that position. And for the whole world Church, it is an important step forward.”
The Episcopal Conference of Benin in West Africa said in a Dec. 31 statement: “We ask ordained ministers incardinated in or passing through Benin to refrain from any form of blessing to same-sex couples and couples in an irregular situation.”
Archbishop Jaime Spengler, president of the Episcopal Conference of Brazil, discussed the declaration in a radio interview broadcast Dec. 25.
The Archbishop of Porto Alegre said: “I ask a very simple question, which guides me and also guides my actions: are they people? If they are people, they deserve our respect too. And when they come to us asking for a blessing, I imagine that they are also looking for a word of comfort, of hope and perhaps even the desire to cope with their own situation. We can’t deny that!”
“But we also can’t agree, so to speak, with behavior that goes against what for us are fundamental values: respect for others, respect for one’s own body, respect for one’s own individuality.”
Bishop Adair José Guimarães said Dec. 23 that he had consulted members of his Diocese of Formosa in central Brazil over whether the declaration and a November ruling from the Vatican doctrine office on the role of people who identify as LGBT at Catholic baptisms and weddings should be applied locally.
He said that lay people and priests responded overwhelmingly that the application of the two texts “would cause scandal and misunderstanding.”
He concluded that the Formosa diocese “is not in a position to implement these suggestions.”
In a Dec. 22 statement, the Diocese of Petrópolis in southeast Brazil noted that people living in “an objective situation of sin” could, according to the declaration, ask spontaneously for a blessing as a sign of “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.”
“These people, with these conditions and dispositions, can receive a prayer from the priest, an invocation of God’s mercy and help so that they can live according to God’s will. This should be an opportunity to proclaim the kerygma to them,” the statement said.
“Blessings to groups who intend to justify an irregular situation, objectively contrary to Christian morality and the true nature of marriage, which would cause confusion and scandal among the faithful, are therefore forbidden.”
“The Church is Mother and Teacher and never abandons her children. She does not deprive anyone of their spiritual goods. In this sense, people living in an irregular situation who want to receive the Church’s blessing should be invited to Mass, during which they will receive the proclamation of the Word, the benefits of the Church's prayer and the final blessing, which is always addressed to everyone.”
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫
Speaking Dec. 21, Archbishop Prosper Kontiebo of Ouagadougou said: “We, your bishops and fathers of the Church family of God which is in Burkina Faso and Niger, do not want to leave you in embarrassment, incomprehension and worry. That’s why we urge you to remain calm and firm in your faith. Catholic doctrine on marriage does not change, and the Church does not approve of irregular or same-sex unions.”
“However, all the pastoral questions raised by the implementation of the document Fiducia supplicans will be studied in depth and will be the subject of a detailed statement by the bishops of this conference.”
In a Dec. 22 statement, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi said that homosexuality was “contrary to the cultural values of our Burundian society.”
“In fact, God hates sin, but loves the sinner,” he said. “However, His love and mercy are never in contradiction with the truth; they always seek to lift man up so that he converts and renounces evil. No priest can bless public sinners who make no gesture of repentance to renounce their sins.”
In a Dec. 21 statement, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon said: “Faithful to the constant teaching of ecclesial tradition which declares acts of homosexuality intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2357), we, the bishops of Cameroon, reiterate our disapproval of homosexuality and homosexual unions.”
“Consequently, we formally forbid all blessings of ‘homosexual couples’ in the Church of Cameroon.”
Bishop William McGrattan, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said in a Dec. 19 statement: “While explicitly affirming the Church’s traditional understanding of marriage, Fiducia supplicans allows pastors to bless people who freely request a blessing, seeking divine help to live in fidelity to God’s will.”
“The declaration makes clear that such blessings must be directed to the persons themselves rather than their situation and that they must be spontaneously requested and are not ritual or liturgical actions.”
“The guiding principle in the declaration is the fact that the very request for a blessing represents an openness to God’s mercy and can be an occasion for greater trust in God.”
Archbishop Dražen Kutleša, the president of the Croatian bishops’ conference, underlined in a Dec. 19 television interview that blessings were directed toward persons.
“If someone is in a certain state, especially a sinful one, then the Church wants to have special care and attention for that person,” said the Archbishop of Zagreb.
"The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith emphasizes that it cannot be understood as a ritualization, i.e. a rite to be acceptable to the Church. It means the person is blessed, not the condition of the people living in that situation.”
Democratic Republic of the Congo 🇨🇩
A Dec. 23 statement, signed by Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CENCO), said that the country’s bishops welcomed the declaration “with religious assent.”
But the bishops of one of the top 10 most populous Catholic countries in the world explained that they had decided to issue a “clarification” following “the many and varied reactions which this declaration has provoked, at the risk of creating confusion among the faithful, particularly with regard to the possibility of blessing same-sex couples.”
“Taking into consideration the recognized right of the faithful to receive from sacred pastors the help that comes from the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the Word of God, the sacraments and the sacramentals (cf. can. 213, can. 1170), we say NO to any form of blessing of same-sex couples,” the statement said.
“We therefore recommend that ordained ministers, catechists and pastoral animators do not give blessings in the liturgical context to couples of men and women, even stable couples in an irregular situation, as this could lead to confusion and equate the blessing with the sacrament of marriage.”
In a Dec. 19 statement, Bishop Czesław Kozon said that there was a problem not with the content of the statement, “but the way it will be received and interpreted.”
“If the statement of the Doctrine of the Faith is to have its proper effect and not cause confusion and polarization, it is important that it is read and understood in its proper sense, which is to affirm traditional Catholic doctrine and morality, to help people on their journey to see the truth and its meaning, but also, while they are on their journey, to accompany and support them in this process with presence and care,” wrote the Bishop of Copenhagen.
In comments reported Dec. 26, Archbishop Luis Cabrera Herrera said that “many things in the pope’s declaration were distorted and many thought that now the union of man and woman, man with man, and woman with woman is called marriage.”
“But it is not so,” said the Archbishop of Guayaquil and president of the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador.
He added: “It is a general blessing. The catechism is very clear, we have to respect them, we have to accept them. We cannot despise them. And the reason is simple, first, because they are persons, they are human beings with all the rights, and from the faith we know that they are children of God. So how can we marginalize them?”
In a message to clergy in his Diocese of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “The declaration is clear that such moments of prayer and blessing are to be ‘spontaneous’ and never part of a ritual or liturgical act. No set formula of prayers and blessings are envisaged or to be provided.”
“In this way it is to remain clear that such moments of prayer and blessing are quite different from a blessing of the union or partnership itself and are a moment of turning to God for his mercy and for the grace to lead a life of increasing faithful love and service in obedience to the Lord.”
The group LGBT+ Catholics Westminster in London, England, said it was delighted to receive “this welcoming, Christmas gift from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope Francis.”
“This is a massive step forward in the recognition and acceptance of all who seek a blessing for their loving and committed relationships,” it commented.
Msgr. Michael Nazir-Ali, a former Anglican bishop who was received into the Catholic Church in 2021 and ordained as a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, told The Pillar that he was struck by seven aspects of the declaration.
“1. It is, first of all, pastoral direction and guidance and claims not to change any teaching of the Catholic Church (Presentation). This should be welcomed by all concerned,” he wrote in a Dec. 18 email.
“2. The question before us is not necessarily about the doctrine of marriage, which remains unchanged, but whether the Church and its pastors have any mandate to bless ‘irregular’ and same-sex relationships (para 4 and passim). Based on Scripture and the unvarying teaching of the Church down the ages, the answer has always been that the Church cannot do this. The 2021 Responsum was clear about this.”
“3. As the declaration points out, the Church’s ministers are often called upon to bless people, events and places. Blessings can be for individuals, families or groups (para 8). This is not the same as blessing relationships which the Church teaches are outside the will of God for humanity.”
“4. Joining in prayer with and for people, which the faithful and pastors alike should do, is not the same as blessing lifestyle preferences for which the Church has no authority (para 30). There seems to be some unclarity in the declaration about the distinction between intercessory prayer and blessing (paras 29, 33 etc).”
“5. Presumably, the point about the ‘Book of Blessings’ is to indicate what kinds of blessings are permissible (para 28). To step outside this framework is to open the floodgates to all kinds of appropriate and inappropriate blessings being given to people, events and places.”
“6. As the declaration states, God loves us as we are and unconditionally (para 29) but he does not leave us as we are, nor can the Church (Rom 12:1-2, 13:11-14, Col 3:1-10 et al). Loving persons is not the same as endorsing and blessing everything they may be doing. As the declaration notes, through prayer and repentance souls are brought to Christ.”
“7. Finally, the declaration refers to God as ‘mother’ (para 27). Scripture never does that and the dominant term, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, for God is Father, though the Bible does use motherly metaphors for the Godhead (eg Isa 49:15, Lk 23:37). Caution is needed here lest we obscure Jesus’ own consciousness of his relationship with his Father, how he taught us to pray to ‘Our Father’ and, of course, the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity itself.”
In a 1,800-word statement issued Dec. 27, Bishop Raimo Goyarrola addressed five “doubts” about the declaration that he had gleaned from listening “with a synodal spirit … to the views on the declaration of multiple priests, religious and lay people” of the Diocese of Helsinki.
Summing up one “doubt,” he said: “The declaration discusses how to bless a couple living in an irregular situation or with a partner of the same sex without giving a blessing to the union itself. However, what makes two people a couple is a specific kind of relationship, union, or status between them (whether by law or at the emotional level). As a consequence, it may be difficult to distinguish the blessing of a couple from blessing the union which forms the couple.”
The bishop responded: “A non-liturgical pastoral blessing is an act of pleading to God for those that humbly turn to Him. It is a simple gesture, which provides an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for it (36). Here two people are blessed together – people, who live as a couple, even as not everything they do is approved. As a consequence, their status as a couple is not blessed. However, something good can be seen in their relationship, such as friendship, care for one another, loyalty, etc.”
He concluded his statement with an invitation.
“We in the Catholic Church in Finland and in the other Nordic Countries have a beautiful tradition of the priest giving a blessing to all who wish to approach the Lord at Holy Mass during the distribution of the Eucharist,” he wrote.
“Receiving a Sacrament is always also a public witness of the person living and wanting to live fully according to the Faith of the Church. But even if the person did not live fully according to Catholic Faith, or did not even belong to the Catholic Church, he can still always come to receive a blessing from the priest distributing Communion. The only requirement is a humble heart and the wish to open oneself to the healing action of God.”
“God calls each of us equally to this path of continual conversion, without separating anyone, through the Church, which in herself is a sacrament of God’s infinite love and mercy.”
Archbishop Hervé Giraud said that the declaration should be read in the light of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, “which already affirmed the idea that, when a union reaches visible stability, it can be an opportunity to be accompanied by the Church.”
“Pope Francis is trying to move away from the simple ‘permit-prohibit’ to place people under God’s gaze in order to lead them back to safer paths. Blessing opens these safer paths,” the Archbishop of Sens-Auxerre told La Croix.
“Until now, the debate in the Church has been between those who say you can bless the person but not the couple, and their opponents. With this note, the pope goes further: he asks that we take into account people’s situation, to encourage them to live better Christian lives.”
Giraud said that the document would likely receive a mixed reaction.
“Some will welcome it as a first step, while others — who were calling for the blessing of civil unions, for example — will feel that it doesn’t go far enough,” he said.
“Behind these small steps lies the Church’s concern for communion, because some lay people and clerics are opposed to any change on the subject, so we need to go very slowly and do a lot of teaching on the meaning of what’s at stake: God wants to take us from where we are to lead us to him.”
In an almost 3,000-word note issued Dec. 27, Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne, Lescar, and Oloron offered guidance in “the context of a secularized society in which we are experiencing an unprecedented anthropological crisis.”
He wrote: “I invite the priests of the diocese, when dealing with couples in an irregular situation or people involved in a homosexual relationship, to show a welcome full of benevolence.”
He added: “I then invite them to establish a pastoral dialogue and to have the courage, for the good of the people and with the appropriate delicacy, without judging them and involving themselves personally in the pastoral relationship, to tell them clearly the Truth that the Church teaches about their situation.”
“Finally, I invite them, if the people ask for it, to give them a blessing, provided it’s to each person individually, calling them to conversion and inviting them to ask for the help of the grace that the Lord grants to all those who ask him to conform their lives to God’s will.”
The bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rennes said in a Jan. 1 statement that French Catholics were living in a society “where marriage has been trivialized by becoming a notion of civil law that ignores the foundational specificity of sexual difference.”
“In this context, it is right, as the declaration emphasizes, not to contribute to creating ‘confusion’ (n. 4, 5, 30, 31, 39) or ‘scandal’ (n. 30, 39),” they said. “For this reason, it is appropriate to spontaneously bless, individually, each of the two persons forming a couple, whatever their sexual orientation, who humbly ask God's blessing, with the desire to conform more and more to his holy will.”
Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouankehan, president of the doctrinal commission of the Episcopal Conference of Gabon in Central Africa, noted that the country’s ruling military junta had banned same-sex couples.
“Thus in our country, this possibility of blessing these couples is automatically canceled,” he said.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said he was grateful for the declaration’s “pastoral perspective.”
“The declaration Fiducia supplicans addresses the issues that have become apparent in the recent past around the topics of requests for blessing and blessings from a pastoral perspective and in a theologically moderate and calm language,” the bishop said in a Dec. 18 statement.
“The declaration applies theological categories and terms in a responsible manner. It draws a clear line between unwavering fidelity to the teachings of the Church and the pastoral requirements of an ecclesial practice that wants to be close to people. A pastoral scope for action is described here, which illustrates responsible Church practice.”
Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the influential lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said that she was both “happy and surprised” by the document.
Referring to priests and lay pastoral workers who have long blessed same-sex couples in Germany, she said: “It turns out that theological honesty and a sense of faith are important milestones on the way to changing the Church. Mere obedience to prohibitions is not Catholic.”
Birgit Mock, vice president of the ZdK, said in an interview published Dec. 20 that the Church in Germany would proceed “as planned” with the creation of a “handout” containing same-sex blessings.
In a Dec. 20 reflection on his website, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau expressed gratitude for the declaration, which he said could “help us in the polarized debates on this issue.”
“Two years ago, in the Diocese of Passau I inaugurated a new office for the pastoral care of queer people,” he wrote. “As a Catholic Church, in the pastoral walk with these people we usually have a great deficit of understanding, and all too often almost no ability to communicate in the care of souls. Now the scope for a shared pastoral path is widening.”
“A prayer for God’s blessing and benevolence in the sense of the Church no longer has to contradict the Church. And from this point of view, the new document on blessing can be a blessing for all those who, in the care of souls, are sincerely committed to accompaniment and at the same time want to remain faithful to the Church in its tradition.”
A Dec. 21 statement from the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference lamented that following the declaration’s publication, “some TV and radio news items as well as posts on the social media have falsely stated that Pope Francis has formally given Roman Catholic priests the permission to bless same-sex marriages.”
“This publication has caused a lot of consternation among many people, Catholics and non- Catholics alike,” the statement said.
It added: “The blessing which the Declaration says could be given to everyone refers to prayers that people may request for. For those in the state of sin, the prayers are meant to lead them to conversion. Therefore, the prayers for persons in same-sex relationships are not intended to legitimize their way of life, but to lead them on the path of conversion (cf. paragraphs 38, 42-45).”
“In conclusion, we wish to reiterate that priests cannot bless same-sex unions or marriages.”
In a Dec. 20 letter to the heads of the bishops’ conferences of Africa and Madagascar, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo asked for opinions on the new document, “so that we can draw up a single synodal declaration, valid for the whole Church in Africa.”
Ambongo, the president of the Ghana-based Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), said that once all the responses were received, SECAM would “issue a pastoral statement on the subject, which will serve as a general guideline for all the local Churches on our continent.”
In a Dec. 28 statement, the bishops of Haiti urged priests and deacons “to ensure that ordinary pastoral blessings, whether non-liturgical or non-sacramental, given to anyone who spontaneously requests them, are not granted in a way that could lead to their being interpreted as a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.”
“In this sense, same-sex unions are not entitled to receive the blessing of marriage from the Catholic Church (Fiducia supplicans, n.31),” the bishops said.
“Priests have no right to bless homosexual couples who request some kind of religious recognition of their union. The Church cannot dispose of God’s plans for marriage.”
Hong Kong 🇭🇰
The Diocese of Hong Kong said in a Dec. 23 statement that the declaration “is not only rooted in biblical tradition and Church teaching, but also highlights Pope Francis’ keen pastoral instincts.”
It said it hoped “that more people in society will experience God’s mercy and blessings through the inspiring message of this declaration.”
In a Dec. 27 statement, the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference stressed that the declaration does not change Church teaching on marriage and sexual morality.
“Considering the pastoral situation of our country, the bishops’ conference formulates as a guideline for pastors that we can bless all people individually, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, but we should always avoid giving a common blessing to couples who live together in a purely conjugal relationship, in a non-ecclesially valid marriage or in a same-sex relationship,” it said.
“At the same time, we accompany all our brothers and sisters in particular life situations with love and respect, helping them to a deeper understanding of God’s will for their journey of life according to the Gospel of Christ.”
Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Budapest and Hungary, said in a video interview posted Dec.21 that initial impression was “a kind of a shock, because I think we always cite the Roman Catholic Church as a beacon of traditional Christianity.”
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, described the declaration as “an affirmation of our spirituality and a gift.”
“I once met the prime minister, and he asked for prayers. I assured him of our prayers and our blessings,” he told Crux.
“Our Indian mentality is so inclusive, understanding people of other religions and other faiths. All are searching for God, all are searching for the truth, all are searching for spirituality.”
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, said: “At a practical level as a priest, I welcome the clarity in this document. The pope is very clear that these pastoral blessings are not a kind of a liturgical or ritual acknowledgment that these unions are equivalent or in any way analogous to the marriage between a man or a woman.”
“At the same time, it shows that the issues and the hurts experienced by people identifying as LGBT+ have certainly been heard very loudly within the church. I do hope that people who may have felt excluded in the past, will see this as some step towards them with the love and mercy of Christ,” the Archbishop of Armagh told OSV News.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore noted Dec. 20 that the declaration had “caused a stir.”
He said: “Fiducia supplicans explains how the Church welcomes everyone to conversion. This is true for me and for all, including those who are attracted to the same sex. One or two or any number of people can seek a blessing and it is pastorally charitable if prudent to do so to help them on their journey through life which always has its ups and downs.”
“This document is a valuable gift since it focuses on the beauty of blessings flowing from the heart of God and is particularly welcome before Christmas when we celebrate the greatest blessing on our world – Christ Our Saviour – who is born among us. He is the One to whom we turn for spiritual health and goodness and the fulness of life.”
In an interview published Dec. 25 by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi said that the declaration addressed a pastoral problem.
“Some things you can say after you have made people feel at home again,” said the president of Italy’s bishops’ conference.
“So it will be possible to learn the rules - beautiful - of a home from which you were estranged, which you think you do not understand and which is not understood.”
“The Church is not made of angels, of the pure. My predecessor [as Archbishop of Bologna], Cardinal Caffarra, was a holy man, strict, concerned that people would not understand the message clearly, and so he wanted the pope to say how it is done, point out the rules... The rule is there, but Pope Francis recommends making it effective in the diversity of situations.”
“The Church communicates the love that explains the rule and makes it alive, and this is done by re-establishing a relationship with everyone. The world is not black and white and requires listening, discernment, acceptance. Someone may think: this way you lose the truth."
He added: “In contrast, no, this is how you rediscover it: by living, by encountering, by talking about Jesus. And you discover that Christianity has deeper roots than you think.”
Bishop Antonio Suetta wrote in a Dec. 21 note to his flock in the Diocese of Ventimiglia-Sanremo, northern Italy, that “everything depends on not misunderstanding the term ‘pastoral.’”
“It cannot be in any way any adjustment disengaged from law, indeed from dogma and morality itself, being rather the action of the Church, ingrained in salvation history, at the beginning of which is placed the incarnation of the Word in the history of men for their salvation,” he said.
“It is, therefore, a matter of perpetuating until the end of time the saving action of Christ the Shepherd. What can deceive or confuse man about truth and justice, therefore, can never be pastoral.”
Ivory Coast 🇨🇮
Bishop Marcellin Yao Kouadio, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Ivory Coast, said Dec. 27: “We your archbishops and bishops, your spiritual guides of the Catholic Church in Ivory Coast, reaffirm our attachment to the values of the family, of the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman, as God willed it from the beginning.”
“We therefore ask ordained ministers to refrain from blessing same-sex couples and couples in an irregular situation.”
Fr. Joseph Loïc Mben, S.J., a Cameroonian teacher at the Jesuit Institute of Theology (ITCJ) in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, suggested that the text was an initial response to an emerging issue.
“I think it’s necessary to make it clear that this text is a statement that represents the official Church’s first position on a new situation,” he wrote in a 1,200-word analysis published by La Croix Africa.
“It is not, therefore, a definitive opinion on the matter. It can be treated as a prudential judgment, which simply implies taking note of it, even if we don’t necessarily agree with the details expressed.”
Mben said that the call to bless irregular relationships could risk giving “the impression of normalizing so-called irregular situations.”
“In Africa, the possibility of same-sex couples seeking a blessing will be rather rare,” he said. “Irregular situations mainly concern heterosexual couples: cohabiting couples (transitional or permanent), divorced couples, couples who are only civilly married, and polygamous households.”
“Given that no one should be excluded, does this mean that all situations should be blessed? It should be made clear that this does not include situations that are criminally reprehensible (incest, pedophilia) or humanly untenable (coercion).”
A Dec. 19 statement signed by Archbishop Tomash Peta and Bishop Athanasius Schneider — respectively the head and auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan — argued that the text endorsed practices that contradicted “Divine Revelation and the uninterrupted, bimillennial doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church..”
“As successors of the Apostles, and faithful to our solemn oath on the occasion of our episcopal consecration ‘to preserve the deposit of faith in purity and integrity, according to the tradition always and everywhere observed in the Church since the time of the Apostles,’ we exhort and prohibit priests and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana from accepting or performing any form of blessing whatsoever of couples in an irregular situation and same-sex couples,” they said.
“It goes without saying that every sincerely repentant sinner with the firm intention to no longer sin and to put an end to his public sinful situation (such as, e.g., cohabitation outside of a canonically valid marriage, union between people of the same sex) can receive a blessing.”
The Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops stressed in a statement that the declaration “does not in any way approve of ‘same-sex marriages’ nor try to give a back-door recognition of such a union.”
“What this document seeks is to awaken the invitation of all people to God's action and grace. The Church seeks to reach out to all individuals, in order to stir them to the path of conversion and salvation,” it said.
“Consequently the document recognizes that anyone, irrespective of their moral life or faith condition are welcome to receive blessings from the Church or a Church minister. The Church does not withhold a blessing to an individual who seeks it with an attitude of truth and faith. This blessing can be given even to non-Catholics, or non-Christians who honestly wish to receive God’s blessing.”
The statement added: “In our African context, while recognizing the confusion existing in the more developed countries, of new unchristian models of ‘conjugal union’ and ‘styles of life,’ we are very clear on what a family and marriage is. The social situation of same-sex marriages does not find acceptance in our culture.”
“We encourage especially the understanding of blessings as a gesture of humble submission to God and His ways, while recognizing our own sinfulness and need for conversion and of Salvation.”
In guidance issued Dec. 23, Archbishop Philip Anyolo said that “all clergy residing and ministering in the Archdiocese of Nairobi are prohibited from blessing irregular relationships, unions, or same-sex couples.”
Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius said Dec. 22: “The declaration encourages believers to realize that the Church does not seek to alienate, but to help those who seek God’s help and desire to open up to Him, to better understand His plan of love and truth.”
“Therefore, I invite you, dear believers, to read this declaration and understand its context. Without understanding the essence of the document, it is easy to reach wrong conclusions or misinterpret the meaning of the document.”
The Episcopal Conference of Malawi issued a Dec. 19 “clarification.”
“The declaration is NOT about the blessing of same-sex unions and sacramental endorsement of the same as married couples,” it stressed.
It underlined that, “to avoid creating confusion among the faithful, we direct that for pastoral reasons, blessings of any kind and for same-sex unions of any kind, are not permitted in Malawi.”
In a two-page statement dated Dec. 19, the Episcopal Conference of Mexico said: “We express as the Mexican episcopate, our communion with the Holy Father following his guidelines to favor pastoral charity in the proclamation of the Gospel, and we exhort both priests and pastoral agents, as well as the faithful in general, not to generate confusion or distort the pastoral sense of what Pope Francis asks, that is, an attitude of welcome, closeness, and discernment to those who request a blessing, guiding them with delicacy, firmness, and clarity on their way to fulfill the will of God in their lives.”
In a Dec. 28 statement, the Episcopal Conference of Mozambique noted that the declaration “states that the blessing presented as possible to be invoked over an irregular or same-sex union is not intended to legitimize these unions.”
“However, in the minds of many of the faithful and in common language, the term blessing is understood to mean legitimizing what is being blessed,” it said.
“For this reason, the Episcopal Conference of Mozambique (CEM) urges all ordained ministers to show closeness and accompaniment to those living in irregular unions. We, the bishops, have decided that irregular unions and same-sex unions should not be blessed in Mozambique.”
The Netherlands 🇳🇱
In a Dec. 19 article on his website, Bishop Jan Hendricks criticized media coverage of the declaration that featured headlines such as “Rome makes 180-degree turn.”
The Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam said that the document “does not want blessing celebrations for gay couples or recognition of these relationships.”
“The headlines and television news have created this sensation themselves,” he wrote. “So what it does is the idea that we as a Church are also there for these people with the pastoral heart of Jesus Christ.”
He added: “We are all busy right now preparing for Christmas and that includes me. I hope to return sometime during January to the declaration, which, by the way, comes from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and has been approved by the pope in a general sense (not in forma specifica) (i.e., it is not a document of the pope himself, as many wrote).”
“I like to take some time to study the text carefully, and I hope others will do the same before shouting all sorts of things.”
In a Dec. 20 statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria repeatedly stressed that the text addressed the “possibility” of blessing people in irregular unions.
“In conclusion,” it said, “the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria assures the entire People of God that the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage remains the same.”
“There is, therefore, no possibility in the Church of blessing same-sex unions and activities. That would go against God’s law, the teachings of the Church, the laws of our nation and the cultural sensibilities of our people.”
In a Christmas message, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said that, although “many Catholics are very worried that there is going to be a deviation from the teaching of the Church on marriage,” this would not happen.
“The Church, in its history of over 2,000 years, has passed through very turbulent periods and survived them by the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit, so too shall this controversy pass away leaving the Church much stronger and cohesive. The Church will not succumb to the dictatorship of modern secularism, as long as you and I remain rooted in our faith, gazing with serene admiration and optimism at the One we call Lord, Master and Savior,” commented the Archbishop of Abuja.
“This period calls for calmness and prayerfully discerning and evaluating issues in truth and in context. There is no doubt that there are some forces opposed to the Catholic Church and her doctrines, traditions or social teachings. There are however many very ardent Catholic lay men and women, clergy and members of the hierarchy who will not allow the Church to be contaminated by the poison of secularism or relativism.”
Writing in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Ibadan, Fr. Anthony Akinwale, O.P., offered a 1,700-word analysis of the declaration.
He concluded: “The declaration set out to avoid a confusion. Yet, there is confusion in the minds of many because they perceive a contradiction between reaffirmation of Catholic doctrine on marriage and the pastoral praxis of blessing same-sex individuals and others who are in sexually active cohabitation.”
In an interview published Dec. 20, Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo said: “It is important to place this document in the right category. It is about friendship, and it is not the same as marriage. This may sound confusing to some, but it is not always possible to find clarity without struggling through some confusion.”
“The doctrine of marriage is maintained, but it opens the door for priests to provide pastoral care for gay people.”
In a Dec. 21 letter to priests of the Prelatures of Trondheim and Tromsø, Bishop Erik Varden reflected on “the right practical application of Fiducia supplicans.”
“An ‘ecclesial’ act takes place publicly, following a ritual approved by the Church; a ‘pastoral’ act is personal, intimate, pertaining to the inner forum,” he wrote.
“Here, then, we have a criterion for the application of Fiducia supplicans: if couples living in irregular circumstances request a ‘pastoral’ blessing, the appropriate setting is away from the public eye, following the example of the Lord in the Gospel who, when approached by a blind man begging to touch him, took the man ‘by the hand and led him out of the village’ (Mark 8:23), there to lay his hands on him, that the healing of divine grace might touch that in him which was broken, without the brokenness becoming a public spectacle.”
In a Jan. 2 pastoral message to the Territorial Prelature of Moyobamba, Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero López-Brea argued that the declaration “damages the communion of the Church, since such blessings directly and seriously contradict Divine Revelation and the uninterrupted doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church, including the recent magisterium of Pope Francis, which is why there are no citations in the entire declaration that rely on the previous magisterium.”
The 61-year-old bishop added: “On the day of my episcopal ordination, I solemnly swore to ‘preserve the deposit of faith in purity and integrity, according to the Tradition always and everywhere observed in the Church since the time of the Apostles.’ Therefore, I admonish the priests of the Prelature of Moyobamba not to perform any form of blessing of couples in an irregular situation or same-sex couples.”
The Philippines 🇵🇭
Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued “episcopal guidance” Dec. 19 on the declaration's implementation in his Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in the Philippines.
In the 700-word statement, he reflected on what it means “to say that a Catholic priest blesses a couple in a cohabitating relationship or a polygamous bond or a same-sex union.”
He distinguished between three types of blessing: an invocation to God, a “blessing of sanctification,” and a “blessing of mercy.”
He said that "when a Catholic priest prays a blessing of mercy on a couple in an irregular situation, who ‘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 of truth’ (no. 30), he is asking God to have pity on both of them and to give them the grace of conversion so that they can regularize their relationships."
He added that the “blessing of mercy” cannot be “a blessing of sanctification since we cannot ask God to bless something that, as Fiducia supplicans explains, is not ‘conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church’ (no. 9).”
“Priests who are invited to bless couples in irregular situations should choose the appropriate words to reveal this intent of the Church,” he said.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), issued an “advisory” Dec. 20.
Presenting a link to the declaration, he said: “The document speaks for itself, and therefore does not require much explanation.”
Fr. Leszek Gęsiak, S.J., spokesman for the Polish bishops’ conference, observed in a Dec. 21 statement that both the 2023 declaration and a 2021 note from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith say that it is not precluded that blessings be “given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”
“Thus, it is about single people living in total abstinence,” Gęsiak wrote. “However, lest confusion arise that this implies approval of same-sex unions, it must be done privately, outside the liturgy and without any analogy to sacramental rites.”
“It is, as the pope emphasizes, an expression of popular piety. A blessing makes sense when a person asks for it in good faith, i.e. wants to organize his life in accordance with God’s will expressed in the commandments. The blessing is supposed to help and strengthen a person in breaking away from sin and leading a good life.”
Puerto Rico 🇵🇷
In a Dec. 30 statement, Archbishop Roberto González Nieves congratulated Pope Francis and the Vatican doctrine office for releasing the declaration.
The Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico said that his archdiocese received the document “as an instrument of merciful love and great pastoral richness.”
“The blessings permitted by Fiducia supplicans do not deny or obscure the Church's doctrine on marriage and human sexuality,” he wrote. “It upholds it and leaves it unchanged.”
“What is at issue here is the possibility of welcoming people in their particular circumstances in order to accompany them as brothers and sisters who are all wounded by original sin, so that with prayer and the ministry of the Church we can reach fullness in Christ, knowing that grace abandons no one and that the Lord desires the salvation of all.”
Republic of the Congo 🇨🇬
In a Dec. 23 statement, Archbishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou, president of the Episcopal Conference of Congo, said: “Affirmed by Pope Francis during our ad limina visit, in communion with him and in the name of our fidelity to the Gospel, out of respect for our cultural heritage, and for the good of the human family, it is impossible for us, the archbishops and bishops of Congo Brazzaville, to allow the blessing of the unions mentioned in Fiducia supplicans.”
“We therefore invite the priests, the people of God and all other Congolese who are shocked by the words "‘blessing of couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples’ in the aforementioned declaration, to prayer and peace.”
“Live the faith as we have received it from our elders, consider the unions that God blesses; those defined by the Church’s millennial theology and be proud to bear our values which invite us to respect the person, but not to complacency in evil.”
In a Dec. 21 statement, the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda underlined that Fiducia supplicans “does not change the teaching of the Church regarding the blessing of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”
It concluded that “the teachings of the Church on Christian marriage have not changed. For this reason, the Church cannot bless same-sex relationships because it would contradict God’s law and our culture.”
Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell said in a New Year letter that “the value of the document is that it permits a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.”
He added: “As Bishop, I welcome the initiative taken, and the possibilities it offers, and pray that it will assist the clergy in caring for those who seek our pastoral care and support, so that they experience the desired blessing from the Lord, who loves us so much that he took on our nature in order to save us all.”
The Archdiocese of Singapore issued a Dec. 19 “clarification” that sought to “correct the misimpression that the Church has changed its stance on its traditional doctrine about marriage.”
It quoted Cardinal William Goh as saying that “the focus of the declaration is not on the blessing of the unions of same-sex couples.”
“Rather, it provides guidance in making a distinction between the Church’s official blessings, and a pastoral blessing for all occasions outside the liturgical and sacramental setting,” he said.
“Unlike the official blessings of the Church, which require the use of approved prayers in addition to conditions to be met, pastoral blessings are ad-lib prayers offered spontaneously for the person.”
The Slovak Bishops’ Conference said in a Dec. 21 statement that it saw Fiducia supplicans as “a gesture of the Church’s attention to every person.”
“The bishops will familiarize themselves with the document and, if necessary, will look for suitable forms in the context of the local Church,” the statement said.
South Africa 🇿🇦
In a Dec. 20 message, Cardinal Stephen Brislin said that “when a blessing is requested by a same-sex couple it cannot be confused with a wedding or with legitimizing that union.”
The Archbishop of Cape Town added: “The document states that the blessing should not be a ritual that is issued by the bishop or by the bishops’ conference or any authority. It should be left to the pastor to spontaneously give a simple blessing that could be done at a shrine, on a pilgrimage, or in a prayer group.”
In a Dec. 21 statement, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, the president of the Pretoria-based Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said: “The document offers suggestions for when and how the blessings might be given. The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference will guide further on how such a blessing may be requested and granted to avoid the confusion the document warns against. In the meantime, the suggestions offered by the declaration may be taken as a guide with prudence.”
In a Dec. 18 post on twitter.com, Bishop José Ignacio Munilla said that “pastoral charity is a call that all sinners may be blessed, but not to bless our sin.”
The Bishop of Orihuela-Alicante, in southeastern Spain, added that “the Gospel invites us to bless all those who open themselves to the gift of God, including those who live in irregular affective situations; while it does not grant us any power to bless their unions that are contrary to God’s plan.”
Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of Spain’s bishops’ conference, said in an interview published Dec. 23 that the declaration would require “a change of mentality for Europe, because it is difficult for us to understand this way of asking God for things that was not done before.”
“It is a spontaneous blessing that is also done in Latin America and that has reached Europe thanks to immigrants. If we understand it along these lines, we will understand the text published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he said.
In a Dec. 19 statement, the Swiss bishops’ conference said that the declaration corresponded “to the Swiss bishops’ desire for an open Church that takes seriously, respects, and accompanies people in different relational situations.”
It linked the document to October’s synod on synodality in Rome and Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris laetitia.
“The declaration Fiducia supplicans testifies that the Church offers a place to all human beings. The bishops are aware that such a Church presupposes acceptance and mutual respect,” it said.
“The discussions under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that took place this year as part of the synod on synodality open up a horizon on this subject.”
“With the declaration just published, the Church bears witness to the fact that it perceives and takes seriously the synod’s concerns, and that it consistently assumes its mission of pastoral accompaniment of every human being, in continuity with the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.”
In a Dec. 20 statement, the Episcopal Conference of Togo in West Africa said: “In his responses to the two cardinals’ dubia on July 11, 2023, Pope Francis wrote: Rites and prayers that could create confusion between what is constitutive of marriage, namely ‘an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children,’ and what contradicts it, are inadmissible. This is why the bishops of Togo direct that priests refrain from blessing homosexual couples.”
Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹
Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, president of the Antilles Episcopal Conference in the Caribbean, said in a Dec. 22 statement that “the guiding principle of the declaration is that blessings are grounded in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, who is ‘a blessing that has saved us all.’”
The Archbishop of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, continued: “The declaration distinguishes between ritual blessings and non-ritual blessings. A ritual blessing requires that what is blessed be ‘conformed to God’s will,’ while non-ritualized or spontaneous blessings are simply gestures that ‘provide an effective means of increasing trust in God’ by the person who asks.”
“Consequently, the declaration does not allow a ritual blessing to be given to those in irregular unions or same-sex unions but rather a non-ritual or spontaneous blessing because it calls forth God's grace to help those who receive it to live according to God's will and enable them to live whatever is good, true, and beautiful in their lives.”
The Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in Ukraine — the body representing the war-torn country’s Latin Catholics — said in a Dec. 19 statement that it saw a “danger in ambiguous wording that causes divergent interpretations among the faithful.”
“What we missed in the document is that the Gospel calls sinners to conversion, and without a call to leave the sinful life of homosexual couples, the blessing may look like an endorsement,” they wrote, while noting that the declaration upholds Church teaching on marriage.
In a Dec. 22 statement, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk wrote that the declaration “interprets the pastoral meaning of blessings in the Latin Church, not in the Eastern Catholic Churches.”
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome, added: “It does not address questions of Catholic faith or morals, does not provide any precepts of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, and does not mention Eastern Christians.”
“Therefore, on the basis of canon. 1492 of the CCEO, this declaration concerns purely the Latin Church and has no legal force for the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.”
United Kingdom 🇬🇧
The British province of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, representing 500 priests and deacons, declared Dec. 21 that the blessings outlined in Fiducia supplicans are “theologically, pastorally and practically inadmissible.”
United States 🇺🇸
Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in a Dec. 20 statement that Catholics “cannot trust the secular media to accurately report what was written in the document and so I encourage everyone to read it for themselves.”
“The blessing is never to be given in a liturgy, must be spontaneously asked for, and must have the intention of desiring the good that God desires for human beings,” he wrote. “The blessing can never be seen as legitimizing sin. This type of blessing should be done with discretion, preferably privately to avoid scandal and confusion.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said in a Dec. 18 statement that the declaration was “a reminder to all of us that in requesting a blessing as an individual or with another, we are all ‘in need of God’s saving presence’ in our lives and that we may always seek ‘God’s assistance…to live better.’”
He added: “The document specifically states that in asking for a blessing it is the couple that is blessed, not their union. This declaration affirms this teaching while allowing for an effort to accompany people in irregular relationships by recognizing the need each of us has for God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”
Bishop Joseph Bambera said in a statement that his Diocese of Scranton in Pennsylvania was “guided by the teachings of the Holy Father, and I invite all people of good will to join me in reading, praying, and reflecting upon the new declaration, which carefully distinguishes between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings, which may be spontaneous or personal.”
He added: “The pastoral sensitivity being shown by Pope Francis in this new declaration is evident and most understandable as it states, ‘when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it. For those seeking a blessing should not be required to have prior moral perfection’ (25).”
“To the contrary, the declaration is intended ‘as a tribute to the faithful People of God, who worship the Lord with so many gestures of deep trust in his mercy and who, with this confidence, constantly come to seek a blessing from Mother Church.’”
“May this Declaration enable all of us who seek to walk by faith to feel the closeness and compassion of God.”
Bishop Robert Barron addressed the declaration in statements dated Dec. 20 and Dec. 20.
The first, in his capacity as Bishop of Winona-Rochester, said that “despite some misleading reporting in the media, Fiducia supplicans in no way sanctions irregular bonds or changes the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.”
The second, issued in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on laity, marriage, family life, and youth, said that “Fiducia supplicans is very much congruent with Pope Francis’s long-held conviction that those who do not live up to the full demand of the Church’s moral teaching are nevertheless loved and cherished by God and invited to accept the Lord’s offer of forgiveness.”
Bishop François Beyrouti, head of the Diocese of Newton for the Melkite Catholic Church in the United States of America, said in a Dec. 20 message to clergy that “if there is a request to attend or do a blessing or ceremony either inside or outside a church it can only be done with my prior written permission.”
He added: “Disregard for this prescription will result in canonical penalties.”
Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford in Connecticut said in a Dec. 21 statement that “sadly but predictably, there will be some who seek to misuse the Declaration to promote the acceptance by the Church of so-called ‘gay marriage.’”
“For that reason it is important to emphasize that the blessing described by the DDF [Vatican doctrine office] is being conferred on persons, and not on a relationship that is not in conformity with what the Church believes and teaches about human sexuality and marriage,” he wrote.
“Lest this be misconstrued, it would be both accurate and prudent to direct a word of blessing individually to each person (I bless you N. and I bless you N.) even as they jointly make the request for a blessing.”
Bishop Joseph Brennan of Fresno, California, underlined in a statement that “Pope Francis is not advocating the blessing of same-sex unions nor is he authorizing priests to impart such a blessing upon those unions or upon any union that the Church would consider and call ‘irregular.’”
“Anyone seeking or justifying the blessing of an irregular or illicit union based on Fiducia supplicans would be looking in the wrong place,” he wrote. “Anyone seeking a stamp of approval for their life or lifestyle must look elsewhere too.”
“Blessings imparted are meant to change and transform us and not God or His opinion about us. The same goes for Church teaching. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Bishop Bishop Cantú of the Diocese of San Jose in California said in a Dec. 18 statement that the declaration represented "an important clarification that acknowledges and responds to the diverse realities of people’s lives while upholding the Church’s teachings on sacramental marriage."
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, said in a Dec. 20 statement that the declaration’s aim was “to develop a broader understanding of blessings, including making a clear distinction between spontaneous blessings and sacramental blessings within a liturgy or a rite.”
“It strives throughout the document to emphasize the need to avoid ‘all serious forms of scandal and confusion among the faithful’ (FS, 30),” he wrote.
“That is a concern we should all heed. A blessing bestowed should never be offered without due consideration.”
Bishop Andrew Cozzens said in an 800-word Dec. 18 statement that Fiducia supplicans was clear that its provisions do not represent “in any way a change in the Church’s teaching about marriage.”
“Although it is impossible for us to bless a same-sex union, since any sexual union outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is contrary to the Gospel, we may bless individuals who are not yet living in full accord with the Gospel, even those in a same-sex union,” said the Bishop of Crookston, Minnesota.
“This is not a marriage blessing and should never be done in a liturgical or ceremonial way which would give the false idea of blessing a union contrary to the Gospel.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich said Dec. 18 that the declaration called for “a pastoral approach, for the Church, as a loving mother.”
“Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God,” he commented.
Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, said in a Dec. 20 statement that “the blessing established in Fiducia supplicans does not legitimatize any same-sex unions.”
“All blessings of any kind are simply opportunities accessible to ‘all who seek [the Father] with a sincere heart’ (Eucharistic Prayer IV) to encounter His Grace and to continually conform their life to Jesus Christ and His Gospel,” he observed.
Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls and Bishop Peter Muhich of Rapid City noted in a Dec. 22 joint statement that some Catholics had expressed “concern that, as a practical matter, Fiducia supplicans will have the impact of normalizing serious sin.”
“Indeed it is troubling that some, even in the Church, may seek to use it for this purpose,” wrote the bishops of South Dakota. “Any misappropriation of the teaching office of the Church in a way that normalizes sin contributes to leading people further from Jesus’ loving heart rather than closer to it, and must be repudiated.”
“Thus we must have a clear understanding of what the Church teaches, even while the virtue of prudence helps us to know when and how to admonish sin in practice. There should be no ambiguity as regards this truth: the ministers of the Church have no power to bless sin.”
In a Dec. 21 letter, Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune urged priests in his Diocese of Charleston to “emphasize to your parishioners that our Church has not changed its doctrine, and God’s plan for love and life will not be contradicted.”
“Some of the secular world willingly views FS [Fiducia supplicans] as a reversal of teaching, that the Catholic Church now upholds homosexual unions. This is not the case. Blessings are not a new practice in our faith, and the blessings discussed in FS are inadmissible if they in any way cause public scandal, affirm irregular or same-sex unions or celebrate sin,” he wrote.
Bishop Daniel Felton of Duluth, Minnesota, said in a Dec. 19 statement that the declartion made clear that blessings “could only be carried out in a way that upholds the Church’s perennial teaching on the nature of marriage.”
“As practicing Catholics, we know we are all sinners who have freely received the gentle mercy and kindness and patience of Jesus, who seeks to bring us abundant healing, hope, and joy,” he wrote.
“Fiducia Supplicans should be understood in that spirit, of meeting people and accompanying them to more deeply experience and embrace the teachings and friendship of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop John Folda of Fargo, North Dakota, noted Dec. 19 that blessings for couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples “are not to be confused with marriage or any liturgical rite, and may be given not to legitimize an irregular relationship, but to offer God’s grace and assistance to all who seek his healing love.”
“The pastors of the Church will continue to study this initiative and how it may affect their ministry to God’s people,” he wrote.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, said in a Dec. 21 statement that the declaration “should not invoke scandal nor confusion for the people of God.”
“It is issued to ensure that all of God's children know they are loved and accepted,” he wrote. “Ask any priest and they will share how often people seek a spontaneous and informal blessing from them. It is one of the many joys of priesthood!”
“Those requesting such blessings seek God’s closeness, healing, and strength. Therefore, the declaration is quite specific in noting that such blessings are never offered in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union or in connection with them, nor are they given with any vestments or words proper to a sacrament or a liturgical rite.”
Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw in Michigan said in a Dec. 20 statement that “in essence, this declaration from the Church regarding pastoral blessings is intended to show forth Christ’s merciful love to all people – not to change her teachings on morals or the sacraments.”
“The mercy of the Lord always includes his loving call to conversion, and that is true for each of us. This is precisely the spirit behind the Church granting priests and deacons the ability to spontaneously offer pastoral blessings to everyone and in every circumstance,” he wrote.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a Dec. 18 statement that the declaration fitted well into the spirit of Advent.
The statement, approved by Pope Francis, reminds us that all of us are loved by God, and that we all are in need of God’s mercy and would benefit from his blessing as we strive to live out his call more perfectly” said the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
He said that the Vatican document was “intended to offer nuance to the Church’s teaching on blessings without in any way changing the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage or on sexual morality.”
“The blessings do not imply that the Church is officially validating the status of the couple,” he wrote. “Effort is particularly to be taken, moreover, to make sure that such blessings are not confused with the sacrament of marriage.”
“Nevertheless, the hope is that these blessings can assist those who request them to ‘open their lives 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.’”
Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph noted in a Dec. 21 statement that “the declaration makes allowance for ministers to bless people in these difficult situations that they may be assisted by God’s grace along the path of conversion and salvation.”
“It is also most clear that these are not liturgical blessings and are not to be offered in a manner including clothing, gestures or words that would risk confusing the blessing with a sacramental marriage,” he wrote.
Bishop Carl Kemme of Witchita in Kansas noted in a Dec. 20 statement that “blessings can cause doubts and confusion when they are extended to couples who are in irregular unions that can never be validated by the Church’s ordained ministers.”
“The Church’s ordained ministers must be exceedingly careful not to give any semblance of legitimizing these unions by such blessings, something which the document calls for in the clearest terms,” he wrote.
He added: “I therefore urge our priests and deacons to exercise what the document calls for, a ‘prudent and fatherly discernment,’ by exercising caution in any given situation that what is sought by such blessings cannot be interpreted either by those who receive them or by those who witness them as something other than a simple blessing.”
Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma said in a Dec. 21 letter to his flock that “in terms of pastoral practice, it seems to me that there is not a lot that is new here.”
“The declaration describes a spontaneous and lower level kind of blessing that is not performed liturgically or using any rite or attached to any sacrament, but that still forms an important moment of prayer and mercy between the Church’s minister and one or more members of the faithful,” he wrote.
“What seems to be new is a more careful and complete rationale for extending this kind of blessing even to couples who are living in irregular situations or including persons who may have a same-sex attraction and be in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.”
In a Dec. 21 statement, Bishop Joseph Kopacz said that the declaration “reminds us that each one of us is in need of God’s blessings, healing, compassion, and mercy.”
“The declaration does not change the Church’s teaching on marriage as a union of one man and one woman in lifelong fidelity and openness to children; nor is it a step toward the ratification of same-sex unions nor a compromise of the Church’s teaching on these irregular relationships,” wrote the bishop of the Diocese of Jackson in Mississippi.
In a three-page statement dated Dec. 21, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said that “Fiducia supplicans exhorts each of us to rely on God's mercy and not to impose our own ideologies fraught with passion as demands upon God to endorse and to discharge.”
“The document teaches that the Church's teaching on marriage, designed in God’s order of creation and taught by Christ Himself, has not changed and cannot change,” he noted.
“The document further teaches that persons in irregular unions or ‘same-sex’ couples can receive a blessing as individuals, if the blessing is spontaneously requested and administered, if it is done apart from any kind of ceremony or liturgy, if it is clearly sought and understood as not endorsing or blessing objectively grave sin, if it does not allude to any union between the individuals that would suggest marriage, if it offers petition for growth in Christian virtue and if it does not use the liturgical prayers and rites of the Church (e.g. the Book of Blessings, the Rite of Marriage).”
Cardinal Seán O’Malley observed in a Dec. 19 statement that “the Holy Father has not endorsed gay marriage, but has recognized all Catholics, including those whose unions are not recognized by the Church, as equally in need of God’s grace and love."
The Archbishop of Boston added: “It is the Church’s mission to share God’s blessings. Fiducia supplicans, issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Francis, has brought clarity to how to impart those blessings.”
“Pope Francis indicates that he is recognizing ‘non-ritualized blessings’ that are spontaneous and for those who ask for them. Priests imparting these blessings need to be careful that it should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.”
In a Dec. 20 statement, Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie in Pennsylvania said that “Fiducia supplicans simply says that anyone who spontaneously asks for a blessing may receive it.”
He added: “We are developing a plan to assist our priests, so they understand the nature of a spontaneous blessing. We all need God’s blessing, no matter where we are in our spiritual journey. The document does provide some clarification, but again, it does not change the Church’s teaching on marriage.”
Bishop Glen Provost of Lake Charles in Louisiana said in a Dec. 20 statement that “the Catholic Church continues to teach definitively that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“The latest document from the Vatican continues to affirm this Gospel teaching, as well as the efficacy of blessings for the on-going conversion of all individuals who are properly disposed,” he wrote.
“Blessings are part of the pastoral practice of the Church. As a pastor of many years, I know, as all our good and faithful priests know, that church legislation cannot address the many minute details of pastoral practice.”
Bishop Alfred Schlert said Dec. 20 that the Vatican document “reaffirmed that the Church does not have the authority nor capability to bestow a liturgical blessing on irregular relationships, including same-sex relationships.”
The Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, added: “Pastoral blessings may be imparted on any individual to invoke God’s help and mercy in their life, to help them grow in holiness, and to come to a greater understanding of Divine Truth. Such blessings are offered to the individual, and do not validate nor sanctify their union with another person.”
“The Church has always been a font of mercy and blessing for those who seek the Lord’s consolation, protection, and grace in order to grow in holiness, and this Declaration affirms that.”
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, emphasized in a Dec. 19 statement that the document “does not change the teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of marriage.”
“We are all called to follow God’s commandments, and this is a life-long journey of conversion and growth by God’s grace and love,” he wrote. “This is why the pope also urges us not to ‘lose pastoral charity, which should permeate all our decisions and attitudes’ and to avoid being ‘judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.’”
Scharfenberger added: “God’s goodness and will is always to make us holy. Our disposition must be to realize our absolute need for God’s love and grace, joyfully receiving God’s blessing, so we can become holy.”
Archbishop George Leo Thomas of Las Vegas said in a Dec. 24 statement that the declaration reflected Pope Francis’ “pastoral concern for the salvation of souls and his closeness to people in every situation, including those who are struggling spiritually, or alienated from the Church.”
He wrote: “Contrary to the opinions of certain critics of Fiducia Supplicans, the document clearly underscores the Church’s deeply held conviction that, ‘… [the Church] does not have the power to confer a liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union presumed to be a marriage or to be an extra-marital sexual practice’ (11),”
“Rather, the non-ritualized blessing envisioned in the document endeavors to open new pathways of grace to all people, stir hunger for the divine in their hearts, and plant the seeds of salvation deep within their souls.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, noted in a Dec. 20 statement that “recipients of pastoral blessings can include people in a same-sex union.”
“The Church’s teaching on marriage remains unchanged, and the statement underscores the importance of blessings as a support for people on their spiritual journeys, recognizing that everyone can benefit from God’s healing love and mercy,” he wrote.
Bishop Gerald Vincke of Salina in Kansas underlined in a Dec. 28 statement that the non-liturgical blessing “is for those seeking to live better.”
“We are all sinners in need of God’s blessings and mercy,” he wrote. “The Church desires to bring healing to the person. We often invite people to come up for a blessing during Holy Communion at Mass for various reasons, including when people are living in a situation that is contrary to the commandments.”
“The reception of a blessing expresses humility, a desire for conversion, help in overcoming sin, and a path to holiness.”
In a Dec. 19 statement, Bishop William Wack urged his flock in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida to read the entire declaration.
“I know that a statement like this can be confusing to many people, especially if it is read out of context. No doubt many people will try to make this something that it is not. There is absolutely no change in doctrine here, only an expansion of pastoral practice in the Church,” he wrote.
Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Michigan, said that the declaration “reminds us that the Spirit is always drawing us closer to the Lord.”
“These spontaneous, private prayers and blessings are given routinely. They are nothing new,” he said in a Dec. 18 statement. “The declaration reaffirms an appropriate pastoral response to people who express a request for these prayers.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a brief statement Dec. 18, stressing that “the Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”
In a Dec. 22 statement, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (USA) said that “sinful behavior and disordered inclinations can never be blessed or condoned.”
“Yes, the Church has not changed her perennial teaching on human sexuality and the sanctity of marriage, but we should neither muddy the waters, either,” it said. “Admonishing sinners is still a work of mercy and obscuring their moral vision is not; even if it is called a ‘blessing.’”
In Uruguay, often described as Latin America’s most secular country, Cardinal Daniel Sturla lamented that the declaration was issued shortly before Christmas.
“If what one wants is to get closer to people and for homosexuals to feel part of the Church, I think it’s fine. Because the Church is for everyone. But there are certain rules. You can’t bless a couple that is not married. You cannot bless unions that the Church itself says are not in accordance with God’s plan,” the Archbishop of Montevideo said in an interview published Dec. 24 by Uruguay’s El País newspaper
He continued: “What happens is that the same document says that there cannot be a ritual, that it cannot be done publicly either... It creates a confusing situation. When you bless people, you don’t ask what their situation is. And it is always done and to whomever. We will continue with the current practice until it becomes clear. The document has generated division. In the Churches of Africa they have said that in their countries, no [it will not take place].”
He added: “In the Church there is a kind of hierarchy of documents. This is not a pronouncement of the pope that has a dogmatic value. Two years ago a document of the Holy See said the opposite. We have to wait a bit and let the situation take its proper course.”
Vatican City 🇻🇦
In a Dec. 18 editorial published by Vatican News, Andrea Tornielli reflected on the merciful quality of “the shepherd’s heart.”
“The origin of the declaration is evangelical,” wrote the Dicastery for Communication’s editorial director. “On almost every page of the Gospel, Jesus breaks traditions and religious prescriptions, respectability, and social conventions. He performs actions that scandalize the self-righteous, the so-called ‘pure,’ those who shield themselves with norms and rules to distance, reject, and close doors.”
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the declaration’s principal signatory, discussed the document in an interview published Dec. 23 by The Pillar.
He reflected further on the declaration’s reception in an interview published Dec. 24 by Spain’s Religión Digital.
“The pope understands very well this theme of ‘people’s blessings,’ not ritualized, which are a rich resource of grassroots pastoral work, a way of being close to all situations, unlike the sacraments that do not always allow it. It is a theme that has been much worked on by Latin American theologians,” he said.
“On the other hand, the document does nothing more than develop the distinction made by the pope himself in his response to [Cardinal Raymond] Burke. He told me that in these matters some reactions in the heat of the moment are always foreseeable, but that he understands that when the text is read calmly it will be better understood.”
He also underlined the importance of reading the declaration “serenely” in an interview published Dec. 26 by Spain’s ABC newspaper.
The cardinal discussed the document in an interview published Jan. 3, 2024, by Germany’s Die Tagespost.
He issued a five-page press release Jan. 4, 2024, to “help clarify the reception” of Fiducia supplicans.
Archbishop Mark O’Toole urged Catholics in his Archdiocese of Cardiff and the Diocese of Menevia to “read and reflect” carefully on Fiducia supplicans.
“I pray that this declaration will encourage all of us to show ever more clearly that the Church is a loving mother, who desires to bring the closeness and compassion of God to all His children,” he said in a Dec. 19 statement.
“May it give consolation and encouragement to those who seek the Father’s blessing, to draw closer to Him, and to discover more deeply the beauty of His Son Jesus, in the life of our holy mother, the Church.”
The Zambia Conference for Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) issued a three-page “pastoral statement” Dec. 20.
“In order to avoid any pastoral confusion and ambiguity as well as not to break the law of our country which forbids same sex unions and activities, and while listening to our cultural heritage which does not accept same sex relationships, the Conference guides that the declaration from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith of December 18th 2023 concerning the blessing of same-sex couples be taken as for further reflection and not for implementation in Zambia,” said the statement signed by 12 bishops and archbishops.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a Dec. 22 statement that “locally, many Catholics and those who look up to the Catholic Church are asking questions and wondering if the declaration marks a paradigm shift in the doctrine of the Church on marriage.”
They concluded: “While we have great appreciation of the declaration and the guidance it gives on blessings, we are also sensitive to the anxiety and confusion that has arisen. We would like to reiterate that the declaration is not about the change of the doctrine on marriage and neither is it about an approval of same sex unions in the Church. It is about blessings.”
“In respect of the law of the land, our culture and for moral reasons we instruct pastors to desist from actions that may be deemed as the blessing of same-sex unions bringing confusion and even scandal to our people.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Dec. 20, Dec. 22, Dec. 26, Dec. 27, Dec. 28, Dec. 29, and Dec. 31, 2023. It was also updated on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, 2024.