As the debate over Fiducia Supplicans continues unabated in 2024, so, too, seem to be Pope Francis’ interventions about the declaration, which allows blessings for same-gender couples. Today’s post features news about the pope’s latest remarks and other developments.
Pope Francis: Most Will Gradually Accept Expanded Blessings
Pope Francis gave a wide-ranging interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, covering everything from violence in the Holy Land to artificial intelligence. At one point, he was asked about blessings for “irregular” couples, and specifically how he handles criticism to Fiducia Supplicans. Francis replied (via Google Translate):
“Those who protest vehemently belong to small ideological groups. A special case are Africans: for them homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view, they don’t tolerate it. But in general, I trust that gradually everyone will be reassured by the spirit of the ‘Fiducia supplicans’ declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith: it aims to include, not divide. It invites us to welcome and then entrust people, and entrust ourselves, to God.”
The pope added that he does not fear a schism in the church over this issue or any other, and explained his approach a bit more, “[T]he Gospel is to sanctify everyone. . .But we are all sinners: why then draw up a list of sinners who can enter the Church and a list of sinners who cannot be in the Church? This is not the Gospel.”
Last week, Pope Francis defended blessings while addressing the members of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said that blessings for same-gender couples were blessings for the individuals, not for their union. He also warned against demanding “moral perfection” from anyone seeking a blessing from the church’s ministers.
Analyzing the Backlash from African Catholics
The backlash to Fiducia Supplicans from African bishops and other Catholics has been swift and, at times, severe. This month, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa released a letter on behalf of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) which prohibited blessings for same-gender couples on the continent. (Later, North Africa’s regional episcopal conference contradicted that letter, saying blessings would be provided, though this was largely theoretical because LGBTQ+ rights are limited in the region.)
The dynamics of how most African Catholics negatively received Fiducia Supplicans prompted several commentaries highlighting that not only bishops, but other clergy and lay faithful are also adamantly opposed to any recognition of LGBTQ+ people. Religion News Service and The Daily Beast both published such commentaries. The latter quoted one Nigerian Catholic, named only as Judith, as summing up much of the sentiments, ““The Catholic Church has been corrupted. Homosexuality is an abomination and we Africans will not participate in such sacrilege.”
Also notable has been reporting about how SECAM’s letter defying the Vatican was compiled. La Croix International reported on a recording of a speech by Ambongo in which he discussed the letter:
“After gathering reactions from various African episcopal conferences, [Ambongo] says he developed a ‘synthesis’ and wrote to Pope Francis, who invited him to meet in Rome. ‘I must say he was the first to suffer from all the reactions that came from around the world,’ Cardinal Ambongo says, adding he saw the pope being ‘very sad.’
“Following Cardinal Ambongo’s arguments that Catholics in Africa were not waiting for ‘theological or philosophical definitions of blessings’ but to be ‘reassured,’ Pope Francis redirected him to Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. ‘We prepared a document,’ continues the cardinal from Kinshasa, who maintains that it was submitted to Pope Francis and also signed by Cardinal Fernández.”
That recording also captured Ambongo, who is part of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, as claiming that “little by little” the West would “disappear” because “they [Westerners] want to attack the basic cell of humanity, which is the family.” To this the cardinal added, “We wish them a good demise.” Instead, Ambongo denied homosexuality existed in Africa except in “isolated cases,” adding there must be “respect” for gay people nonetheless.
What To Make of The Pope’s Interventions?
Pope Francis’ multiple interventions about Fiducia Supplicans and its reception have changed the tenor of its release at some level, as when he clarifies it is not unions, but individuals who are blessed. John Allen, Jr., editor of Crux suggested rather than pacifying the debate, the pope has amplified it with his remarks. The pope’s clarification that individuals, not unions, receive the blessing appeases few, Allen claims. He writes:
“[F]or pro-LGBTQ+ activists in the Catholic fold, who hailed Fiducia as a watershed when it appeared a month ago, to some extent the pope’s remarks may temper their enthusiasm. They may feel slighted that Francis seemingly went out of his way to attempt to placate critics, thereby perhaps taking some of the wind out of the sails of hopes that Fiducia was a hiarbinger of even bolder changes to come. . .
“Conservative critics of Fiducia, however, seem unlikely to be mollified, for a couple of reasons. . .Francis still refers to couples and to the people who ‘together’ request a blessing, not to individuals or single persons. That language suggests that what’s being blessed is the couple, and the critical perspective would be that no matter how you try to spin it, blessing a same-sex couple implies some sort of approval, or at least tolerance, of their relationship – certainly in the court of public opinion, if not in strictly theological terms.”
Other Reactions, Arranged by Country
Honduras: Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, emeritus archbishop of Tegucigalpa, defended Pope Francis and Fiducia Supplicans in a speech to Panamanian priests and related radio interview. Maradiaga, once a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals, said the declaration is “not a heresy, but a pastoral explanation of the character of the blessings.” He added that people should not only read the section dealing with “irregular” couples, but the entire text for its “precious themes.” The cardinal also that blessings may not be possible in some countries due to homosexuality’s criminalization.
Italy: Bologna’s Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s perspective on Fiducia Supplicans were made known in some public remarks to fellow prelates. Zuppi, who is the president of the Italian Episcopal Conferencewrote said the declaration was “placed within the horizon of mercy,” and then went on to quote extensively from an article by Florence’s Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, who wrote, in part (via Google Translate):
“It is not a question of an expansion of the concept of marriage but of a concrete application of the conviction of faith that the love of God has no boundaries and precisely his work is the basis of overcoming the difficult situations in which man finds himself. Blessings… are ‘a pastoral resource rather than a risk or a problem.”
Norway: Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo welcomed Fiducia Supplicans and recognized the church’s understanding of homosexuality relies on outdated knowledge, according to Katolsk.no. Eidsvig said (via Google Translate):
“‘We can count on there being something like 40 million gay Catholics in the world. Traditionally, the message to these has been that they must live celibately. However, it is not only the Catholic Church that has said this. Norwegian criminal law prohibited sexual acts between men until 1972; the Norwegian church was on the same page as us.’
“‘Those who can now be blessed, with the Church’s approval, are people who live together in friendship, a great and important human good. The premise is heartbreaking. The alternative for cohabiting homosexuals – Catholics and others – is all too often sorrow, loneliness and promiscuity.'”
United States: Several U.S. bishops welcomed Fiducia Supplicans when it was released, despite the majority of the countyr’s bishops’ resistance to Pope Francis. However, most U.S. church leaders who released statements were, at best, neutral, and many were more negative.
Among the prelates who welcomed the Vatican’s declaration was Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino, who said in a statement:
“[The declaration] also gives us an important reminder of the love and mercy of Jesus. A blessing is not a sacrament, and anybody can give a blessing to anybody else. A blessing in the Biblical sense is the general gesture to wish good to others. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to extend His love and mercy to all our brothers and sisters, including LGBTQ+ couples, without qualification or judgment.”
Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego issued a letter to priests encouraging them to offer such blessings as “a wonderful act of accompaniment and grace,” though the cardinal noted Fiducia Supplicans “does not mandate that every priest offer such blessings.”
Bishop David Bonnar of Youngstown published an article in America in which he called the declaration “a moment to bring Christ closer to those in need,” writing further, the act of blessing “need not be an obstacle to our unity. It can be an opportunity. This is not a time to close doors but to open them.”
Bishops in the U.S. who made neutral or more negative statements include: Archbishop Charles Chaput, emeritus of Philadelphia, Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Bishop Michael Fisher of Buffalo, Bishop Luis Zarama of Raleigh, Bishop James Golka of Colorado Springs, Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, Bishop Joseph Brennan of Fresno, Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune of Charleston, Bishop Daniel Felton of Duluth, Bishop John Folda of Fargo, Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw, Bishop Carl Kemme of Witchita, Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Bishop Glen Provost of Lake Charles, Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown, Bishop Gerald Vincke of Salina.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2024