Many Agree “Fiducia Supplicans” Is an Evangelizing Text—But to What End?

How will the implementation of Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican declaration allowing priests to bless same-gender couples, shape new contours to pastoral care? Many commentators agree that the document has an evangelical aim, however, their views about the evangelizing methods point in two different directions.

One school of thought recognizes that blessings in the Catholic tradition implore God’s healing, wholeness, grace, and abundance. Blessings are a recognition of divine activity, and they ask for more of it. On the other hand, for some Catholic leaders, the blessings commended by Fiducia Supplicans are a tool to reach out to sinners—and call them to repent.

Rocco Buttiglione, a scholar and member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in Vatican News that Fiducia Supplicans “is almost a revolution.” He went on to clarify the nature of this revolution as “a return to…the missionary presence of Christ in human history.” Buttiglione writes about the priority of welcome:

“Those who ask for a blessing, in the case we are considering here, know that they are doing something that the Church does not approve of and indeed forbids. However, the Church wants to affirm a bond, a belonging. A rebellious belonging but a belonging nonetheless. Will the Church extinguish this smouldering lamplight or keep it alive, whatever is possible?”

America’s editors likewise highlight a positive evangelical aim they find in Fiducia Supplicans by noting in an editorial the declaration’s pastoral requirement to “draw close even to those whose lives may be visibly out of step with that teaching.” The editors interpret the document as “say[ing] that the church always has a duty to accompany people who seek God’s blessing, even in morally complicated and imperfect situations.”

National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winter similarly affirms: “What the declaration does is say that the church will not treat people in ‘irregular’ situations — like being in a LGBTQ relationship or being divorced and remarried — as if they are beyond the pale. We welcome them into the church. Full stop.”

Likewise, Andrea Tornielli, editorial manager for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, picks up on Fiducia Supplicans and pastoral accompaniment more broadly for “irregular” couples as “an eminently missionary activity.” Tornielli wrote in Vatican News:

“The Christian faith, [Pope] Francis went on to say [in his 2023 Christmas greeting to the Curia], ‘is not meant to confirm our sense of security, to let us settle into comfortable religious certitudes, and to offer us quick answers to life’s complex problems.’ The God of Jesus Christ ‘sends us on a journey, draws us out of our comfort zones, our complacency about what we have already done, and in this way He sets us free; He changes us.’

“Certainly, the declaration about blessings questions, shakes up, forces one out of ‘comfort zones’. The aim is to meet people where they live and how they live, not how we would like them to live.”

Though Tornielli does not extend his thinking so far, if following his insistence on “meeting people where they live and how they live,” it conjures up images of priests entering LGBTQ+ community centers, drag shows, and gay bars—perhaps moving church leaders beyond their comfort zones, too.

Yet, as lovely as the idea of missionary priests among the LGBTQ+ community may be, queer couples will more likely be the ones leaving their comfort zones. In  U.S. Catholic, writer Madison Chastain offers a more likely scenario: it will be same-gender couples approaching priests on the church turf’s to request blessings, so pastors must be proactive. In this way, Chastain writes:

“To approach God’s table and to ask for spiritual support still places the onus of responsibility on the marginalized, unless a minister or church community has fostered a space of inclusion that would anticipate such a vulnerable request. The declaration rightly calls such a blessing ‘a tribute to the faithful People of God, who worship the Lord with so many gestures of deep trust.’ This document is an invitation. Those in pastoral leadership must answer.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, understands that a request for a blessing is part of the proof of the faith for those in the relationship. He writes for Religion News Service, “The mere asking for a blessing reveals hearts that want to be in a positive relationship with God and the church.” Responding affirmatively is no great feat of missionary zeal or love. To the contrary, Reese states, “Turning such people away [would be] cruel and un-Christian.”

Commentators with a more theologically conservative point of view seem to agree with the document’s evangelizing outlook, but they have a different goal in mind.

Fr. Francis Afu hopes that the experiencing pastoral care from a priest when seeking a blessing will transform a same-gender couple’s relationship. In a reflection on Fiducia Supplicans, Afu cites G.K. Chesterton’s remark that a person enters a brothel looking for love, not sex. “When he is loved, he suddenly forgets the way to the brothel,” Afu says. “Could it be that it is love that our brothers and sisters in same-sex relationships are looking for?” Afu implies that, if properly welcomed and shown God’s love, couples pursuing blessings will no longer desire one another. For some conservatives, this is the allure of Fiducia Supplicans as a strategy for evangelization.

Similarly, Eve Tushnet, writing in Church Life Journal, envisions priests asking a host of pastorally-minded questions of those requesting blessings. For Tushnet, who identifies as gay while promoting mandatory celibacy for queer people, such questions are crucial because, “Gay Catholics often say that the priests and mentors who helped them most did not tell them what to do, but opened new possibilities and encouraged them to forge new paths.” While acknowledging that those paths will be “different for every couple,” Tushnet hopes that these conversations will lead couples toward “seeking to live within Catholic chastity.” 

But Chastain in her U.S. Catholic commentary brings a dose of realism to this assumption. “A gay person for whom a blessing from the church would be meaningful is unlikely to experience a change of opinion about the union they seek the blessing of,” she writes. She insists that priests should give these blessings without the assumption that they know what the grace requested would look like, pointing out:

“As a person who writes about bodies and healing, I am keenly aware of the Christian predisposition toward viewing prayer as a means to an end, a funnel by which we receive God’s gifts. When Christians speak of healing, they’re almost always speaking of change. Particularly, a change of state. From blind to seeing, from sinner to sinless. These analogies themselves are harmful. They undergird everything from ableist interpretations of scripture to conversion narratives for queer people to prosperity gospel lenses of earthly wealth. . .

“[T]he declaration is riddled with language of healing, salvation, ‘living rightly,’ and even ‘rehabilitation’… this language can be a slippery slope to blessings being given with a specific outcome in mind. We must insist that the healing extended during the blessing of a queer person is not that the person be ‘saved’ from their homosexuality.”

Commonweal’s Griffin Oleynick expresses hope that, while the declaration can be debated, what will not be lost is the impetus to not limit “the unprompted outpouring of divine grace” to the sacraments or liturgy. Rather, he writes blessings are no “less powerful as expressions of God’s abiding love for all people, including same-sex couples” when done outside those contexts. He concludes:

“Francis’s critics often complain that the pope’s gentler, more ‘pastoral’ approach to neuralgic ecclesial issues like same-sex relationships creates confusion and sows division. Fiducia supplicans, written with doctrinal precision and spiritual charity, does neither. It affirms, rightly, what too many Catholics often forget: that the Church is not primarily a redoubt for the perfect, but a community of flawed human beings humbly committed to serving a merciful God. It should therefore be as generous as possible in dispensing blessings, and less anxious about the purity of those who receive them.”

This coming Sunday, February 25, 2024 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time, New Ways Ministry will host a webinar, “Being Blessed: The Challenge of Fiducia Supplicans,” to discuss the declaration and its reception globally. The panelists will be Xavier Montecel, a theologian who studies the interaction of liturgy and ethics; Yunuen Trujillo, who works on pastoral outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics; and SimonMary Aikhiokai, a theologian who studies religion, race, and decolonization across multiple contexts. The panelists’ remarks will be followed by a question and answer period.

For more information and to register, click here.

—Ariell Watson Simon (she/her) and Bondings 2.0 Staff, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2024
4 replies

    “Afu cites G.K. Chesterton’s remark that a person enters a brothel looking for love, not sex. ‘When he is loved, he suddenly forgets the way to the brothel,’ Afu says. ‘Could it be that it is love that our brothers and sisters in same-sex relationships are looking for?’ Afu implies that, if properly welcomed and shown God’s love, couples pursuing blessings will no longer desire one another. For some conservatives, this is the allure of Fiducia Supplicans as a strategy for evangelization.”

    Interesting. So if people getting married ask for a blessing, does that mean the blessing will lead them to realize they find God’s love and no longer desire each other? Or, perhaps couples (gay or straight) will find God in each other, and their union will be blessed.

    Perhaps the person blessing gay couples and straight couples in “irregular” marriages or relationships will be changed by realizing that God is already present in such relationships. So perhaps it is not just the couples who will be changed by experiencing God through the blessing, but also the one speaking the blessing.

    • Fr Francis Afu
      Fr Francis Afu says:

      I am working on the God who dwells in Thick Darkness (1Kings 8:12) and invites us all to meet him there. Blessings doesn’t only transform the one asking for the blessing, but also the one who is the channel of blessing – the priest. These are big stuff, no wonder many of us priests and bishops are scared of giving out blessing to the group of people identified in FS.


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