Rorate Caeli

"On Fiducia supplicans: Anonymous and Anomalous Blessings" - By Fr Serafino M. Lanzetta

 Fr. Serafino Lanzetta
for Rorate Caeli

With the declaration Fiducia supplicans (FS) of 18 December 2023, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with some haste compared to the fresh synodal outcomes, asked Pope Francis ex audientia to approve new blessings, created ad hoc “for couples in irregular situations” and “couples of the same sex” The emphasis is on the 'couple' in both cases. In order to approve it at the level of principle, thus justifying its moral acts, an attempt is made to separate the liturgical aspect of the blessing from its previous, 'theological' but not ritual stage. With what results? 

Bene-dicere without saying it

A first reflection should be made on the distinction between liturgical and devotional or pastoral blessings. By stripping the latter of their liturgical status, it seems that one can offer a way to bless the aforementioned couples anyway. With a real sophistry in place. This new blessing need not be “a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament” (FS 36). But does it remain a sacramental to be a blessing and not a talismanic invocation? FS distinguishes between liturgical blessings as linked to a sacrament, and sacramental blessings as given outside the sacraments as actual graces. All this would still concern “a strictly liturgical point of view” in which “a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church” (FS 9). However, in addition to this “strictly liturgical” context, there would be a third ‘flexibly liturgical’ sphere. In fact, these blessings would now be joined by extemporaneous, devotional or pastoral blessings, which, while on the one hand are independent from the ritual of the Church, so as to be more flexible and usable in all the various circumstances, even in contradiction to God's will, are nonetheless clothed with the liturgical-theological connotations of sacramentals. In fact FS 31 states thus: 

These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit—what classical theology calls “actual grace”—so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.

In an equivocal manner, these new blessings are de facto equated with sacramentals but without defining them as such, giving the appearance of having created a neutral sub-category for the mere purpose of justifying a blessing of what cannot be blessed because objectively contrary to God and his creation. We are faced with blessings that are anonymous sacramentals, such as Rahner's ‘anonymous Christians’, i.e. those who are Christians without knowing they are because being Christian belongs not to grace but to nature, which is already one with grace at the level of knowledge. The transition from being blessed, albeit a-thematically or transcendentally, to being blessed thematically or categorically, will come in time, when by then, thanks to the normal use that will be made of these blessings, it will have penetrated the minds and hearts of Christians that one can also bless sin. Meanwhile, a basic Nominalism emerges, a predominant characteristic of these times: ‘blessing’ is a mere flatus vocis, that is, a word that does not say what it means, but expresses with the same apparent meaning another reality, namely the legitimisation of irregular and same-sex couples. Nominalism is the subjugation of concepts to power. 

Grace as the right of all

How can we not also see the danger of the naturalisation of grace on the one hand and its reduction to a right of all on the other? Two sides of the same coin. The blessing of irregular and homosexual couples, which would be a sui generis species of actual grace, is the justification of sin and its cover-up by the requirement of grace for all and in all situations. In truth, actual grace as a transient motion is not an anonymous supernatural aid offered by God for one to remain in sin. It would be blasphemy just to think so. It is always a push towards goodness and sanctifying grace, so that man, through conversion, opens himself to God and accepts the gift of new life, the garment of grace that bestows supernatural faith, hope and charity. These blessings, instead, in addition to being incapable of blessing, due to the fact that the grace invoked on the couple's relationship is antithetical to the objective situation of sin, have the inevitable effect of confirming couples in their status of disorder contrary to God.

To get around this, attempts have been made to justify the principle of these blessings by distinguishing between the persons who are blessed and the couple as such, or rather the union, which, although in discordance with God's commandment, would not be the proper object of the blessing. It’s a wordplay. Either the couple manifests itself by virtue of union and relationship or it does not exist. However, it is the same FS declaration that in no. 31 speaks of blessings of “human relationships”, i.e. relationships against nature. It does not say so, just as it never speaks of sin, nor of sodomy, but that is what is about, and anonymously it tries to bless it. There isn’t any mention of conversion nor of confession to be, if anything, more than blessed absolved of sin. The mens of the document is more than clear. We are faced with blessings that want to be such without giving the appearance of being so. However, this does not make even the homosexual promotion and integration movements happy, one of which, the Chilean one, called FS a “una nueva y intolerable forma de exclusión” and “una medida apartheid”.

Intrinsic evil no longer exists

What is the real problem at the stake? With pleasant surprise, several episcopates, especially the peripheries, are declaring their clear rejection of FS. The emphasis is usually placed on the inability to bless homosexual couples, most often forgetting irregular couples, that is, remarried divorcees who, while in a heterosexual relationship, live in defiance of God's will expressed in the sacrament of marriage. It is, after all, the same moral problem that unites the two categories of couples that one now wishes to bless, with a gravity accentuated in the sin of sodomy. The openness to these blessings, or rather the definitive acceptance of objective and intrinsic sin in irregular and same-sex couples, has its beginning in Amoris laetitia (19 March 2016). It was with this Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis that the impetus was given. It is with it that the word end was written to intrinsece malum, that is, to intrinsically disordered sins, such as precisely adultery and sodomy. We all remember the sterile hermeneutical controversy surrounding that famous footnote, no. 356, which subtly opened the door to the reception of the sacraments for irregular couples ("irregular" then always in inverted commas to mark its overcoming, but now without). The reception of the sacraments for these couples, albeit after a miraculous discernment, has since been confirmed by an official rescript of the Pope, included in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis 108 (2016) 1071-1074. With FS, the discourse also includes same-sex couples. This new footnote will feed into a more extensive and argued document tomorrow. 

The bishops have been silent at the outbreak of Amoris laetitia, and with them even some cardinal who now rightly act as lion, but it is this document that must be respectfully criticised and urgently corrected in line with Veritatis splendor (79-83). Therein lies the paradigm shift. Oddly enough FS presents itself as a “theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis”, which “implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and in the official texts of the Church” (Presentation). A development there certainly is in the manner of a self-referential circle: from Amoris laetitia to now, from irregular couples to homosexual couples, after a great deal of work in various synods that preceded this last great and interminable one. That is, from Fernández to Fernández.  

The most synodal Synod and the doctrinization of pastoral care

Two final considerations with reference to the method adopted. With FS the instrumental use of the Synod on the Synod is confirmed, now more than ever. The Synod is a method aimed at changing the hierarchical constitution of the Church and its doctrine in a pastoral manner. Among the doctrines that the organisers had at heart was the change to be made on the subject of homosexuality. This had been worked on for years. With various synods, the one on the family, the Amazon synod, then on youth, but always without success. So a synod was conceived that would incorporate change as such into the very concept of synodality. It was certainly surprising not even to find the acronym LGBTQ+ in the Synthesis of the first Session, published on 28 October 2023. It might have seemed a defeat for the organisational machine. But no. There was FS in the pipeline, with a strong opening signal from the Pope himself before the start of the Synod, in a reply to the five cardinals who submitted five new dubia. The Pope was open to the blessing of same-sex couples on condition that it was not confused with marriage or with a sacramental. So, without waiting until next year for the second Roman phase of the ongoing Synod, in a very non-synodal manner, Cardinal Fernández’s Dicastery has now published FS. 

If on the one hand, and in a very synodal manner, it shows all the doctrinal ambiguity and pastoral simplification of the faith bordering on paroxysm, a sort of ‘do-it-yourself’ blessing, on the other hand, FS reveals also a not insignificant problem typical of the last sixty years. A second methodological reflection is called for. FS is the most successful example of a pastoral effort that not only affects the doctrine and changes it, but also imposes itself as doctrine. This is the doctrine of praxis, or also a praxis that becomes doctrine and imposes upon the faithful and clerics the acceptance of self in the name of authority separated from truth. Just as doctrine and pastoral praxis always go together and the latter is ontologically dependent on the former, so too are truth and authority. The only authority is that of truth and the uninterrupted transmission of faith and morals: from Christ through the Apostles to us. With FS the pastoral method, in addition to becoming doctrine itself, has gone much further, suggesting a new doctrine. To all of this we simply say: non licet!

A ‘clarification’ from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

After few days since the publication of FS, another note, all of a sudden, came out. On 4 January 2024, the DDF issued a press release, in order to respond to an increasing and unexpected reaction to FS from numerous Bishops’ Conferences and from single Bishops and Cardinals. The main preoccupation of Card. Fernández is that the Episcopal rejection of FS may appear as a doctrinal opposition to his Dicastery and ultimately to the Holy Father, whose only and ab-solute authority is called upon from start to finish. Also the suspicion of an indirect accuse of heresy from Rome is perceptible. Why? One could quote the Latin: “excusatio non petita, accusation manifesta” (the unrequested excuse is a manifest accusation), when the press release comes rightly to this: 

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.

If there is no room why to declare it? Was more clarity needed from the outset? What is even more astonishing is that despite the promise to issue no further intervention as to detailing new blessings – the accent is on spontaneity – this latest document is all about that, giving even an example of blessing and its timing. Those “10 or 15 seconds” a blessing may last about well display the spectrum of the new doctrinal function assigned to pastorality. Unfortunately, the main issue with FS remains, the elephant is still in the room. Once again and in a more compassionate manner, they try to reinforce the doctrinal principle: irregular couples and same sex couples can be blessed, when they, according to Catholic moral doctrine, simply cannot.