What to actually DO with Fiducia Supplicans – a (relatively) brief Q&A

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As we start the new year, questions and opinions about the late 2023 declaration Fiducia Supplicans continue to whirl about online and off. There continues to be a great deal of conversation – most of it producing more heat than light – about its value.

In addition to following CCC 2478 as best I can, I’ve been mulling over a friend’s variation of Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity – or human brokenness”. If we’re going to approach human sexuality and Church doctrine – both complicated in their own right! – it will serve us best to assume both the best about the character of others while leaving plenty of room for the limitations and foibles of their humanity.

All that to say that the one thing we ought to be determined NOT to do is lose ourselves in bitterness, despair, or self-righteousness. At the end of the day, Jesus is Lord and He has promised to safeguard & guide His Church. All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well – if not now, then in His good time.

Okay, great – but what are you actually going to DO?

When it comes to blessings, I don’t know that much has changed for me. As I mentioned in my first post about the declaration, it’s not like I’m carelessly throwing around blessings in the first place. There are plenty of examples where a blessing is inappropriate (or just weird, such as when folks ask for a blessing mere moments after Mass ‘just because’ – yes really!). Sussing that out is part of ministry – if anything this declaration offers both more opportunity AND gives me language for when I ought to say ‘no’. I’m SUPER excited about paragraph 31 of Fiducia Supplicans, which allows for the possibility of blessings of same-sex couples & couples in irregular situations but establishes clear expectations about whether and when that might (might!) be permissible.

Isn’t the use of ‘couple’ to describe relationships (presumably) rooted in sin problematic?

If the use of ‘couple’ is assumed to somehow recognize as legitimize or approve of sinful behavior, it would be problematic. But that is clearly not the case: the document goes to pains distinguish blessing the people versus the relationship (see paragraphs 4-6, 11, 26, 30, 31, 38, 39). ‘Couple’ here is simply a way to reference those who present themselves for a blessing, regardless of whether or not that pairing is rooted in God’s plan or human brokenness.

And please note: every reference to couples (eleven in total) is coupled1 with adjectives that set apart the subjects from married couples. Do the word search yourself – there is no instance of ‘couple’ appearing without an accompanying qualifier that clearly distinguishes between married couples and the couples being discussed.

So you’d bless any couple who presents themselves – what about pedophiles, incestuous pairings, or the KKK?!?

Yes, these are all examples that have been thrown my way. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too, weird Catholic Twitter X.

Of course I wouldn’t offer a blessing for just any two people who presented themselves expecting their favorite sin to be blessed. Again, that’s what paragraph 31 outlines for us. And in my experience, unrepentant sinners don’t present themselves for blessings. If they did, well, what a great opportunity to preach the Gospel! If they’re truly recalcitrant or confrontational, they’ll find that that preaching will get more, rather than less, fiery upon subsequent attempts.

If it’s all so clear, why is Fiducia Supplicans necessary at all?

I suspect that if you have to ask, then its not really necessary – that is, not necessary for you. For the people who DO feel marginalized by or outright unwelcome in the Church – perhaps highest among them being those who are in irregular marriages or who have same-sex attractions – this document sends an unexpected but much-needed message: even as She challenges you to a new way of life, know that you are loved and you can be blessed by the Church. It’s necessary because those who are wounded need ministering to – and that’s what the Church is for!

What about Father James Martin, the Church in German, or [insert latest scandalous example here]?

Let’s be real: those who were going to act in bad faith didn’t need Fiducia Supplicans to energize them to act badly. They have a history of bad acting and will continue to do so regardless of what the Church does or doesn’t say. What this declaration does is give concrete direction about what is and isn’t allowed. Moreover, it makes distinctions that – if actually read within a hermeneutic of continuity – emphasize rather than diminish what we believe! Have I mentioned paragraph 31 of Fiducia Supplicans? Seriously, read paragraph 31 of Fiducia Supplicans! Notice the language of the second and third sentences – that’s not the language of changing doctrine, but of changing hearts…which not only implies but depends on recognizing (as the declaration says) one’s destitution and need of God’s help!

In short, pray for those who are weaponizing Church teaching for their own purposes – but we can’t let their actions embitter our hearts or tempt us towards despair.

Isn’t Pope Francis/the DDF culpable for releasing a document they have to have know would be misused?

Knowing that something good will be abused isn’t necessarily reason to withhold it. The Lord had to have know that the Eucharist would be unworthily received, misused, and abused (at the Last Supper, no less!) – and yet He handed His Body over to untrustworthy and weak men…. and those were just His Apostles!

Should [insert scandalous example here] be rebuked and/or punished? Absolutely! Why that hasn’t/isn’t happening is beyond you or me – but we should 100% be praying both for those in authority and all the more for those who are acting so scandalously. May their hearts be changed and converted – soon!

So what do WE (average Joe/Jane Catholic) do with Fiducia Supplicans?

Unless you’re a priest or bishop, probably nothing directly related to blessings. But you know what would be AMAZING? If every Catholic started reaching out to those around them, especially those who have felt like they are unwelcome in church because they are divorced/remarried/gay/lesbian/whatever, we could have a real revolution on our hands.

Imagine if we actually sought out and invited others – not the indirect & generic message of ‘everyone’s welcome’ but individual invitations. You know who called people by name? Jesus! And He left US with the great commission, to go out and bring people in. At the end of the day, this is what we’re called to do. If this declaration helps you do it – great! If not, let it be. But whatever you do, go out preach the Good News to all.

  1. No, I’m NOT sorry. I’ll take my light-hearted moments of punnery where I can! ↩︎