Apologetics for the Masses #468 - Fiducia Supplicans, Pope Francis, Bp. Strickland and...Dave Armstrong (Part 3)

Bible Christian Society


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Talking about Fiducia Supplicans this week; Papal Indefectibility and Papal Infallibility next week.

General Comments

Two things:

1) Recently I was on the Cordial Catholic  podcast. The title of the episode is: Questions I Couldn't Answer as an Evangelical  (referring to the host, not to me).   Here's a link if you're interested in watching it - The Cordial Catholic podcast.  I enjoyed doing this one...thought the host did a very good job. 

2) I've got some more "Articles of Interest" at the bottom of the newsletter.  I keep forgetting during the week to save articles I think you guys might be interested in, but I'll get more and more into the habit of doing so over the coming weeks. 


This newsletter will feature - finally - my take on Fiducia Supplicans -  the recent Vatican Declaration  on the blessing of couples in 'irregular' situations, particularly same sex "couples".  Next week I will start where I leave off in this issue to jump into expounding a bit on 'papal indefectibility' and why I believe a number of folks, Dave Armstrong among them, are not quite understanding it, and papal infallibility, correctly. 


Once again, I'll use something Dave Armstrong said on his FB page, as a jumping off point for my comments.  In reply to the "reactionaries" who were complaining about what was said in Fiducia Supplicans, the recently released Declaration  from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), Armstrong posted a meme which said:

"All Pope Francis said is that the two thousand+ year tradition of Catholic priests imparting God's blessing on sinners may continue!  And both radtrads and proggies have thrown themselves into a major meltdown."

A few points on Armstrong's post:

1) Always with the condescending and derogatory and disdainful language for those he disagrees with.  "Radtrads."  "Proggies."  Why do that?  How does it help anything to publicly demean the people you're disagreeing with?

2) A minor issue, but one that is close to my heart - and I will give the reasons why in an upcoming newsletter - is an error regarding the length of time that Catholic priests have been "imparting God's blessing on sinners".  It has not been going on for 2000+ years, because the Church is not 2000+ years old. 

3) Dave's meme is saying that Pope Francis, in Fiducia Supplicans, added nothing new to the Church's tradition in regards to blessings given by priests. Yet, the document itself says it is promulgating something new in regards to blessings given by priests.  So, either Dave is wrong, or the document is wrong.  Maybe Dave didn't read the document, or perhaps he didn't properly understand it. Which is the launch point for my commentary on the document.

Commentary on Fiducia Supplicans
Several points to make in regard to this Declaration for the DDF:

1) Let's start with why Dave Armstrong's meme was wrong about the Pope not changing anything in regards to blessings given by priests.  In the "Presentation" part at the beginning of the document, it states: "The value of this document, however, is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings...Such theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church." 

So, the document itself says it changed something - "an innovative contribution", "a real development," "a broadening," "an enrichment" - in regard to blessings.  Dave's meme says it didn't.  And, so as not to single out Dave, a whole lot of other folks also said that all the document did was reinforce the Church's ancient practice of allowing priests to give blessings to individuals.  Again, though, that's not true, at least, according to what the document itself says.  So, either they didn't read the document, or they didn't understand what it was saying.

2) However, I can't really blame anyone for being confused as to what the document is indeed saying as it has caused a great deal of confusion among many of the faithful all around the world...clergy and laity alike.  It is, if one is perfectly honest, written in a rather confusing manner.  I say that because its stated purpose is to allow for the blessing of "couples" in "irregular" situations and, particularly, for the blessing of same-sex "couples"; yet, all through the document, it speaks of the blessing of individuals.

For example, in Paragraph #21, it states that "when one asks for a blessing, one is expressing a petition for God's assistance."  Individual blessings.  Paragraph #28, "No one can be prevented from this act of giving thanks, and each person - even if he or she..."  Individual blessings.  Paragraph #29, "...the believer's heart...no one is precluded from this type of blessing."  Individual blessings.  Over and over the language in the document is speaking of the blessing of individuals.

And, even in Section III of the document, which is titled: "Blessings of Couples in Irregular Situations and of Couples of the Same Sex," it talks of the blessing of individuals.  Paragraph #33, "God never turns away anyone who approaches him!"  Paragraph #38, when giving a general description of the blessing of a "couple", the document states: "In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health..."  Paragraph #43, "Therefore, even when a person's relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing..."  Paragraph #45, "In this way, every brother and every sister...always blessed."  Again, over and over, we find the language is referring to the blessing of individuals, not couples, even when the document is specifically giving a description of the blessing of a "couple". 

Furthermore, in a press release that came out a few weeks after Fiducia Supplicans was released, we see the same thing.  Because of the world-wide outcry about the document, Cardinal Fernandez, Prefect of the DDF, issued a press release to offer a "better" understanding of the document.  In the press release, the Cardinal offers an example of a blessing of a couple in an "irregular" situation.  In his example of a prayer that a priest could say for this "couple," absolutely nothing is said in the prayer about them being a "couple" or about their relationship.  And then, Cardinal Fernandez says that after the short prayer, the priest would conclude "with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons."  In other words, in the very example he gives of a blessing for a couple, he's not talking about blessing a couple, he's talking about individually blessing two people who presented themselves at the same time to a priest for a blessing.  There is absolutely nothing different here than what most priests that I am aware of were already doing.  So, again, the document is confusing and the press release that supposedly explains the document does nothing, in my opinion, to clear up that confusion.  In fact, it just seems to add to the confusion. 

3) But, what I find as the thing most confusing about the document is the idea that one can bless a "couple" - even if it is a "pastoral" blessing - without at the same time implicitly blessing that which makes them a "couple".  A little background on this one:

In March of 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), now the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), was asked the following question by some cardinals: "Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?"  The unequivocal response from the CDF was: "Negative". 

In the explanation of that response, the CDF said the following: "...when a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revelaed by Christ the Lord.  Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.  For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage...as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex." 

That same response goes on to say: "The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex...[is] a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals [blessings], as the Church understands them."  It also says this: "...it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such.  In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God...but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God."  Finally, that same response from the CDF states, "[God] does not and cannot bless sin..." 

Given that response from the CDF in 2021, this current document, Fiducia Supplicans, seeks a path around the negative answer by coming up with a new category of blessings - pastoral blessings, as opposed to liturgical blessings.  This is what Cardinal Fernandez, in the aforementioned press release following up on Fiducia Supplicans, says is the "real novelty" of Fiducia Supplicans - being able to distinguish between two different forms of blessings..."liturgical or ritualized" and "spontaneous or pastoral".  A "liturgical" blessing of couples in irregular situations, or same-sex couples, is not permitted, but a pastoral blessing is.

This, for me, is the main issue with the document. The document itself, as well as the previous document from the CDF in March of 2021, teach that God cannot bless that which is sinful.  Furthermore, these documents make it abundantly clear that same sex relationships are clearly sinful - they are not "objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation," and that this is the constant doctrinal teaching of the Church.  Therefore, no one can bless a same sex "relationship" - or any other kind of irregular relationship.  Yet, Fiducia Supplicans states that one can indeed give a pastoral blessing to a same sex "couple" or other "couples" in "irregular" situations.  Here's the thing, though: how can you bless a "couple" without also implicitly blessing the relationship which makes them a "couple"?  And, if that which makes them a couple is sinful in the eyes of God, then it can't be blessed, which means that the couple in that "irregular" situation cannot be blessed; at least, not as a "couple". 

In fact, the previous mentioned response from March of 2021 states, as previously noted above, that "any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their [same sex "couples"] unions as such," is declared "illicit".  ANY form of blessing.  That would seem to include a "pastoral" blessing as well as a "liturgical" blessing. 

Thus the confusion.  How can you bless a "couple" without inherently blessing that which makes them a couple?  And, if that which makes them a couple is sinful in the eyes of God, how can the "couple" be blessed at all as a "couple" since God does not and cannot bless sin?  In Fiducia Supplicans, Paragraph #9, it says: "From a strictly liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God's will, as expresed in the teachings of the Church."  So, is Cardinal Fernandez, both in Fiducia Supplicans, and in the subsequent press release, saying that, from a pastoral point of view, a blessing does not require that what is blessed be conformed to God's will? 

4) Now, lest anyone accuse me of calling the Pope a heretic or being a "reactionary" or being a schismatic or a pope-basher or any such thing, let me say this: This document, Fiducia Supplicans, has caused a great deal of confusion among the faithful around the world.  That is a fact that cannot be rationally contested, as seen by the negative response to its publication coming from all parts of the globe.  The confusion is being experienced by bishops, priests, and the laity. Entire episcopal conferences, and entire Eastern rites of the Church, have rejected the document as have any number of individual bishops and priests.  And that is all I am saying - this document has caused confusion.  And, the follow-up press release did nothing, as far as I can see, to alleviate that confusion.  It is my hope that we will get further elaboration from the DDF to potentially clear up this confusion. 

Specifically, I would like to see further clarification on 3 questions:

A) How can one bless a "couple" without inherently, or implicitly, blessing the relationship that makes them a "couple"?

B) Paragraph #9 of Fiducia Supplicans states that a "liturgical" blessing "requires that what is blessed be conformed to God's will".  Is that not also true of a "pastoral" blessing?  If not, why not?

C) The March of 2021 response from the CDF to the question regarding blessing "unions of persons of the same sex", declared illicit "any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their [persons of the same sex] unions as such".  Would that not include "pastoral" blessings of same sex "couples"?  If not, why not?

Maybe further and deeper explanations from the DDF regarding the document, especially if they include answers to those 3 questions (the Martignoni dubia), could help to clear up some of the confusion that a lot of folks around the world are experiencing. 

5) Finally, I want to note that the Pope, in this document, makes it very clear that this teaching is not a doctrinal teaching.  Fiducia Supplicans goes to great length to emphasize that there is no change to any doctrinal teaching of the Church.  Cardinal Fernandez, in his follow up press release, emphasizes that: "What is expressed by these Episcopal conferences [those objecting to the document] cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition, because the document is clear and definitive about marriage and sexuality [i.e., no doctrinal changes regarding them, which means the objections are to parts of the document that are of a non-doctrinal nature]."  "This Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage..."  "This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage."  "Evidently, there is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally from this Declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church, or blasphemous." 

So, the change, the "novelty" of the document, in regard to blessings - recognizing two types of blessings: "pastoral" as well as "liturgical" blessings - is, according to the document itself, and according to Cardinal Fernandez in his follow-up press release, not a matter of doctrine.  It is of a pastoral nature.  Or, as Paragraph #24 says, it is more along the lines of "popular piety" or "pious practices".  Not claiming to be a theologian, but it would seem to me that what is being taught then by this Declaration, would fall more under the category of discipline as opposed to doctrine.  All of which means that, as far as I can tell - again, not being a "theologian" - I don't see how you can charge the Pope with heresy over this one document, since it apparently, according to the Vatican, has nothing to do with doctrine. 

{Next week - papal indefectibility and papal infallibility}

Closing Comments

I hope that all made sense.  I figure I'll be accused of being both a "reactionary" and a "popesplainer"; a heretic and a fool.  All good.  Hope all of you have a great week!


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Articles of Interest

Speaker of the House Requests Traditional Latin Mass

U.S. Government Flags Bible Purchases as a Sign of Extremism

Was This Icon Painted by the Virgin Mary?

Vatican Press Release Explaining Fiducia Supplicans

Notre Dame Catholic Newspaper Asks Court to Award Legal Fees


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Apologetics for the Masses