Fiducia Supplicans summary

The declaration “Fiducia supplicans”, meaning suppliant confidence from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by its Prefect Cardinal Fernández and approved by the Pope was released on 18 December 2023. The document delves into the theme of blessings, distinguishing between ritual and liturgical blessings and spontaneous blessings, which are more similar to gestures of popular devotion.

It should be remembered that in 2021, the Dicastery issued a “responsum”, responding to the question posed by a group of cardinals as to whether the church has “the power to give blessings to unions of people of the same sex”. The answer was “negative” — and the reasons for that answer were presented in an “explanatory note”.

It establishes a series of clarifications and reforms regarding so-called “irregular relationships”, that is, those who have established a monogamous and affective bond that lasts over time and who have not entered into marriage, without making any changes to this institution. Marriage in the Catholic Church is still understood only as the union between a man and a woman, prohibiting any type of marriage that is not heterosexual and monogamous, such as marriage between people of the same sex, as well as any type of bigamy and heterosexual or bisexual polygamy.

The document has the nature of a declaration and not a law, an encyclical; hence its flexibility to the peculiar reality of the particular Church, that has to apply it with its sense of prudence. Therefore, the Latin slogan “Roma locuta causa finita” does not apply here.

Based on the principle of spontaneous blessings, it was defined that, faced with the request of two people to be blessed, even if their status as a couple is “irregular”, it will be possible for the ordained minister to consent. But without this gesture of pastoral closeness containing elements in the least similar to a marriage rite.

The Catholic Church continues to be clear in its doctrine and objectively distinguishes those who can marry with the right to the ceremony, from those who can only have a simple blessing from a priest. The Vatican cannot and does not now allow same-sex marriage in the Church. If a new openness to the topic in question was expected from this “new” position of Pope Francis, when you read the document carefully you realize that nothing changes.

The value of this document, however, is to offer a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, which allows us to expand and enrich the classical understanding strictly linked to a liturgical perspective. It is about avoiding “something that is not being recognized as marriage”. Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what is constitutive of marriage, as “an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”, and what contradicts it, are unacceptable. This belief is well founded on the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage.

This “Fiducia supplicans” can be read as an attempt to silence those who wish to see their union blessed, in the same way as that of other couples.

Reading canons 1055 to 1165 helps us to better understand the nature of marriage and the seriousness with which the Church treats the matter.

Document Structure

“Fiducia supplicans” begins with an introduction by Cardinal Victor Fernández. He delves into the “pastoral meaning of blessings” through a theological reflection “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis”. A reflection that “implies a real development in relation to what has been said about blessings” until now, including the possibility “of blessing couples in an irregular situation and same-sex couples, without officially validating their status or modifying in any way the perennial teaching of the Church on marriage.”

Document Content

After the first paragraphs (1-3), in which the previous pronouncement of 2021 is recalled and now expanded, the declaration presents blessing in the sacrament of marriage (paragraphs 4-6), declaring “inadmissible rites and prayers that may create confusion between what is constitutive of marriage” and “what contradicts it”, in order to avoid recognizing in some way “as marriage something that it is not”. It is reiterated that, according to “perennial Catholic doctrine”, only sexual relations within marriage between a man and a woman are considered lawful.

A second major chapter of the document (paragraphs 7-30) analyzes the meaning of the various blessings, which are destined for people, objects of devotion, places of life. The document recalls that, “from a strictly liturgical point of view”, the blessing requires that what is blessed “is in accordance with the will of God, expressed in the teachings of the Church”. When, with a specific liturgical rite, “a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships”, it is necessary that “what is blessed can correspond to God’s designs inscribed in Creation” (11). Therefore, the Church does not have the power to confer a liturgical blessing on irregular or same-sex couples. But we must avoid the risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to just this point of view, demanding for a simple blessing “the same moral conditions that are required for the reception of the sacraments” (12).

After analyzing the blessings in Scripture, the statement offers a theological-pastoral understanding. Whoever asks for a blessing “shows himself in need of the saving presence of God in his story”, because he expresses “a request for help from God, a plea for a better life” (21). This request must be welcomed and valued “outside a liturgical structure”, when it is “in a sphere of greater spontaneity and freedom” (23). Looking at them from the perspective of popular piety, “blessings should be valued as acts of devotion”. To confer them, therefore, there is no need to demand “prior moral perfection” as a precondition.

Discernment required

Deepening this distinction, based on Pope Francis’ response to the cardinals’ dubia, who asked for discernment on the possibility of “forms of blessing, requested by one or more people, that do not convey an erroneous conception of marriage” (26); the document states that this type of blessing “is offered to everyone, without asking for anything, making people feel that they continue to be blessed despite their mistakes and that “the heavenly Father continues to want their best and to hope that they will finally open to good” (27).

There are “several occasions in which people come spontaneously to ask for a blessing, whether on pilgrimages, in shrines, or even on the street when they meet a priest”, and such blessings “are addressed to everyone, no one can be excluded” (28). Therefore, while remaining prohibited from activating “procedures or rites” for these cases, the ordained minister can join in the prayer of those people who “although in a union that in no way can be compared to marriage, wish to entrust themselves to the Lord and to his mercy, invoke his help, be guided to a greater understanding of his plan of love and truth” (30).

The third chapter of the declaration (paragraphs 31-41), opens up the possibility of these blessings, which represent a gesture to those who “recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of their help, do not claim the legitimacy of their own status, but implore that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and relationships is invested, healed, and uplifted by the presence of the Holy Spirit” (31). These blessings are not to be normalized but entrusted to “practical discernment in a particular situation” (37). The couple may be blessed, but not the union. In “the brief prayer that may precede this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister can ask for peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue and mutual assistance, as well as God’s light and strength to be able to fully fulfill his will” (38). It is also clarified that, to avoid “any form of confusion and scandal”, when an irregular or same-sex couple asks for a blessing,

  • “It will never be performed at the same time as civil union rites or even in connection with them.
  • Not even with the clothes, gestures or words typical of a wedding” (39). This type of blessing “can find its place in other contexts, such as a visit to a sanctuary, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage” (40).

Finally, the fourth chapter (paragraphs 42-45) reminds us that “even when the relationship with God is clouded by sin, it is always possible to ask for a blessing by reaching out to Him” and wanting it “can be the best possible.” in some situations” (43). This declaration, in essence, seeks to highlight God’s mercy, which has no limits and wants to bring his paternal blessing to everyone, regardless of the person’s condition.