Bishops in North Africa have endorsed Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican declaration on blessings, breaking from a wider group of African bishops who have rejected the document. Today’s post features this story and other developments in the blessings debate.
North African Bishops Endorse Fiducia Supplicans
The Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa (CERNA) endorsed Fiducia Supplicans in a statement following their mid-January assembly. The statement was issued by Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero of Rabat, Morocco, on behalf of bishops in the countries of Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Western Sahara. It confirms that couples in “irregular situations” will be given the blessing per the declaration. The cardinal explained the decision by writing, in part:
“Everyone deserves unconditional respect under the Gospel. And the right attitude towards each particular situation must be that of discernment which consists of welcoming, listening, praying with, training and accompanying on a path of growth and conversion. Let us not forget: the horizon of all life is that of holiness.
“This document Fiducia supplicans is an invitation to reread and evaluate our ecclesial practice of discernment, to deepen the concrete paths of a pastoral ministry of reconciliation and communion.
“Faced with the risk of clear-cut positions and exploitation likely to endanger the unity of the Church, it seems to us that the subject deserves to be re-examined in a peaceful manner within the framework of the synodal dynamic underway in the Church universal.”
The North African bishops’ statement is notable because it directly contradicts a letter from the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), of which CERNA is a member, that rejected Fiducia Supplicans and specifically barred blessings for same-gender couples.
Archbishop Jean-Paul Vesco of Algiers said that CERNA’s follow-up statement was prompted because SECAM’s letter “is not what we intended to convey to our dioceses.” Indeed, La Croix International reported that SECAM issued its letter before receiving feedback from North Africa’s bishops.
CERNA’s statement now, however, does not mean blessings for same-gender couples will soon occur in the region. Fr. Michel Guillaud, CERNA’s secretary general, explained, “In North African societies, same-sex unions are inconceivable. . .The positive reception of Fiducia supplicans is therefore more theoretical than practical.”
Top French Prelates Seek to Overcome Divisions in Episcopate
Divisions among France’s bishops also became apparent this month. In mid-January, the Permanent Council of the French Bishops’ Conference issued a pro-blessings statement after a meeting of some forty bishops. The bishops leading the episcopal conference, including Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille and Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, said offering blessings will “demonstrate a broad and unconditional welcome.”
This affirmation echoes Archbishop Hervé Giraud of Sens-Auxerre’s comment right after Fiducia Supplicans’ release that he would bless same-gender couples “according to the Gospel and the style of Christ.” Also supportive have been Archbishop Vincent Dollmann of Cambrai and Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin of Havre.
But La Croix International reported there is also significant opposition, or at least trepidation from many of the country’s bishops, such as Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen and Bishop Denis Jachiet of Belfort-Montbéliard. Some church leaders, like Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne-Lescar-Oloron, exhorted priests to be specific in only blessing LGBTQ+ people individually, not together as a couple.
Likewise, Archbishop Pierre d’Ornella of Rennes issued a statement on behalf of bishops in the ecclesiastical province of Rennes, which includes nine dioceses in northwest France, who banned blessings for same-gender couples in the region. That statement reads, in part:
“However, while positing the ‘possibility’ – which is therefore not an obligation – of blessing ‘same-sex couples’, the Declaration carefully outlines its contours. In fact, it invites us to discern. . .
“In our society where marriage has been trivialized by becoming a notion of civil law which ignores the founding specificity of sexual difference. . .In this context, it is therefore right, as the Declaration underlines, not to contribute to creating ‘confusion’ (n. 4, 5, 30, 31, 39) or ‘scandal’ (n. 30, 39). ). This is why it is appropriate to bless spontaneously, individually, each of the two people forming a couple, whatever their sexual orientation, who ask God’s blessing with humility and with the desire to conform more and more to his holy will.”
The bishop signatories in Renne also include Bishops Raymond Centène of Vannes, Emmanuel Delmas of Angers, Laurent Dognin of Quimper, François Jacolin of Luçon, Denis Moutel of Saint-Brieuc, Laurent Percerou of Nantes, Jean-Pierre Vuillemin of Le Mans, Jean Bondu, auxiliary of Rennes, and Fr. Frédéric Foucher, diocesan administrator of Laval.
Reactions from Other Episcopal Conferences, Arranged by Country
Argentina: Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro, as president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, issued a statement invoking his fellow Argentine prelate, Pope Francis, in support of Fiducia Supplicans. Ojea wrote, in part (via Google Translate):
“The Pope does theology from a pastoral point of view, which is why sometimes it is difficult for some minds to understand this. . .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. 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.”
Brazil: Archbishop Jaime Spengler of Porto Alegre, president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), in an interview condemned the “consequences of exacerbated moralism” in the church that lead to exclusion, and instead advocated greater welcome:
“‘I ask a very simple question, which guides me and also guides action: are they people? If they are people, they deserve our respect too. And when they approach asking for a blessing, I imagine they are also looking for a word of comfort, hope and perhaps even the desire to face their own situation. We can’t deny it! Now, we also cannot agree, so to speak, with behavior that goes against what are fundamental values for us: respect for others, respect for one’s own body, respect for one’s own individuality. . .Even in the face of these controversial issues, I would say, we are encouraged to think and seek solutions in an even more radical way in the sense of construction, of understanding, that can meet every authentically human need.'”
Some bishops in Brazil were less supportive. Bishop Adair José Guimarães of Formosa said that Fiducia Supplicans will be disregarded in his diocese, as will directives from the Vatican on accepting transgender people as godparents. He claimed that a nearly “unanimous” consultation with laity and priests said any blessings would “bring misunderstanding and scandal.”
Bishop Pedro Cunha Cruz of Campanha, who was joined by his diocese’s chancellor, Fr. Bruno Cesar Dias Graciano, denied that the declaration was a “legislative text” or “mandatory canonical norms,” but nevertheless, they expressed openness to blessing same-gender couples.
Bishops Vítor Agnaldo de Menezes of Propriá and José Genivaldo Garcia of Estância published a joint statement denying the declaration is part of magisterial teaching. Still, the bishops say no priest can refuse to bless people.
Croatia: Archbishop Mate Uzinić of Rijeka said of the Vatican’s approach to blessings that “the statement is a call not to throw stones, but to be close to those who seek God’s closeness.” The archbishop has made previous pastoral outreaches to LGBTQ+ Croatians.
Ecuador: Archbishop Luis Cabrera of Guayaquil said in an interview that while the church did not recognize same-gender marriage, “The catechism is very clear, we must respect [gay people], we must welcome them. We cannot despise them. And the reason is simple, first, because they are people, they are human beings with all the rights, and from faith we know that they are children of God. So how can we marginalize them?”
Wales: Archbishop Mark O’Toole, head of both the Archdiocese of Cardiff and Diocese of Menevia, quickly responded by writing in a statement, “I warmly welcome the desire and intention of the Holy Father to encourage and challenge us to be close to all people irrespective of their personal circumstances. . .At the heart of the Declaration is a call for those of us who are pastors to take a sensitive pastoral approach in being available and willing to draw close to people whatever their situation.”
Finland: Bishop Raimo Goyarrola of Helsinki published a lengthy statement summarizing “the doubts in five points which summarize the confusion of some people,” and his response to these doubts. Goyarrola concludes, “The only requirement [to receive a Sacrament] 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.”
Hong Kong: The Diocese of Hong Kong issued a statement saying, “the content of the declaration is not only rooted in biblical tradition and church teaching, but also highlights Pope Francis’ keen pastoral instincts.” The statement concluded, “The Diocese of Hong Kong hopes that more people in society will experience God’s mercy and blessings through the inspiring message of this declaration.”
India: Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said expanded blessings for more people fits well with Indian culture. Gracias 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. . .Everybody has a right to God’s love and God’s compassion, calling the teaching on blessings in the document a ‘natural consequence’ of this principle. . .
“‘In the past I have said this and I want to say it again, [LGBTQ+ people] are part of our family, they need our pastoral care. I have met them when they have come to me sometimes privately in my office. Jesus never refused a blessing … that’s the idea.”
Netherlands: The Dutch bishops issued a mid-January statement which affirmed Fiducia Supplicans in a limited way, emphasizing the declaration’s restrictions and arguing it is individuals, not couples who are blessed. The episcopal conference stated, in part, “The Dutch bishops do not wish to deny anyone the support and strength of God. It is possible to say a prayer over individual believers living in an irregular relationship. What one asks for in the prayer and the manner in which one prays are important here. . .[P]rayer can give the strength to draw near to God and live in accordance with His intentions for the creation of man and woman and marriage.”
Bishop Robert Mutsaerts, an auxiliary of ’s-Hertogenbosch diocese, published a separate statement entitled “That devilish ambiguity again” which attacked Pope Francis for “a repeating refrain in this pontificate: the lack of clarity, the sowing of confusion.” The bishop later wrote that “there is no such thing” as “gay Christians” because “If you make sin your identity, there is no way out.”
Peru: Bishop Rafael Escudero Lopez-Brea of Mayobamba issued a letter claiming Fiducia Supplicans “damages the communion of the Church” and blessing same-gender couples is “a serious abuse of the Most Holy Name of God” which will bring the destructive and short-range consequences.”
Poland: The Polish Bishops’ Conference issued a statement about Fiducia Supplicans that instead largely relied on the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2021 ban on same-gender blessings. They further added that even people who are in same-gender relationships cannot be blessed individually.
More Positive Reactions: In addition to the above prelates, fairly-neutral to somewhat-positive statements were also issued by Ireland’s Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin and Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore; Scotland’s Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell; Norway’s Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim; the Slovakian Bishops’ Conference; the Antilles Episcopal Conference via its president, Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon of Port of Spain, Trinidad; England’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and his auxiliary, Bishop John Sherrington; the Permanent Council for the Portuguese Episcopal Conference.
More Negative Reactions: In addition to the above prelates, more negative statements were issued by Lithuania’s Archbishop Gintaras Gruš of Vilnius; Mexico’s Bishop Carlos Briceño Arch of Veracruz; the Episcopal Conference of Haiti; the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and, separately, Bishop János Székely of Szombathely.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2024
National Catholic Reporter, “Across Eastern Europe, bishops reject Vatican’s opening to same-sex blessings“