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Andrea TornielliWikimedia Commons

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Theologians have rebuked an article by the editorial director of the Vatican’s internal news service, which argued that the controversial same-sex blessings proposed by Fiducia Supplicans could be justified by a text from Pope John Paul II, dismissing the assertion as “obviously a fallacy” and an idea that should be rejected.

Tornielli defends Fernández

On February 27, Vatican News published an article in a variety of languages seeking to defend the proposed blessing of same-sex couples as outlined in the Declaration Fiducia Supplicans. Written by Andrea Tornielli, Vatican News’ editorial director, the article dealt specifically with the concept of liturgical or pastoral blessings as argued in Fiducia Supplicans (FS).

READ: Cardinal Müller tells Pope Francis: Blessing homosexual couples is ‘impossible’ and ‘blasphemy’

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández had argued for a distinction in the kinds of “blessings” when making his defense of offering blessings to same-sex “couples” when he authored FS, differentiating between “liturgical” and so-called “pastoral” blessings. He subsequently defended the declaration from numerous allegations of heterodoxy by arguing it tasks priests “to distinguish between two different forms of blessings: ‘liturgical or ritualized’ and ‘spontaneous or pastoral.’”

Indeed, both in his January 4 statement and in Fiducia Supplicans, Fernández attested that the document’s teaching on blessings “implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church.” 

This, wrote Cardinal Gerhard Müller, was “the most problematic point,” and a criticism in which he was joined by Cardinal Robert Sarah.

But Tornielli – known in Italy as the Pope’s mouthpiece or spin-doctor – issued a convoluted defense of Fernández and FS. He spoke about “two ways” that “liturgical blessings, can be understood”: a “broad sense” in which “every prayer made by an ordained minister” is liturgical, and “a narrower sense, according to which a prayer or invocation over people is ‘liturgical’ only when performed ‘ritually,’ and more precisely when it is based on a text approved by an ecclesiastical authority.”

To support his argument, Tornielli referenced the “important precedent” between liturgical and non-liturgical as found in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2000 document “Instruction on Prayers for Healing.” Written by then-prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, Tornielli attested that certain sections of the text “show that the meaning of the term ‘liturgical’ used in Fiducia Supplicans to define ritual blessings, which are different from pastoral ones, is certainly a new development but inserted within the framework of the Magisterium of the last decades.”

READ: John Paul II shows how Francis’ same-sex ‘blessings’ are incompatible with Catholic teaching

He cited Articles 2 and 3 of the Disciplinary Norms section, the former of which states: 

Prayers for healing are considered to be liturgical if they are part of the liturgical books approved by the Church’s competent authority; otherwise, they are non-liturgical.

‘Obviously a fallacy’

Crucially, Tornielli’s argument quietly interchanged the subject of blessings – which is what Fiducia Supplicans calls for – and prayers, which is what the CDF’s instruction focusses on. However, simple prayers are different in type and kind to blessings. 

This aspect was highlighted in an analysis of Tornielli’s argument made by a Dominican theologian and provided to LifeSiteNews.

“The article argues that since there can be liturgical and non-liturgical prayers, so there can be liturgical and non-liturgical blessings. As it stands, it is obviously a fallacy; you might as well argue that therefore there can be non-liturgical altars,” he began.  

“One difference between a prayer and a blessing is that a blessing is always in some way an act of authority, and so in that sense is always done in the name of Christ the Leitourgos/Minister of the sanctuary (Heb. 8:2). So in that sense all blessings are liturgical.”

Continuing, the Dominican noted that “if you wanted to define ‘liturgical’ as ‘regulated by books’ then they need not be. In the end, it is a matter of definition that is not worth quarrelling about.”

He attested that the aspect of debating over the concept of understanding a blessing was secondary to a larger issue inherent in the declaration:

The real objection to Fiducia Supplicans lies elsewhere, namely in the scandal that is inevitably given by such blessings, however they are characterized. Tornielli’s statement that ‘Fiducia Supplicans repeatedly clarifies that imparting a pastoral or spontaneous blessing … to an ‘irregular’ couple that approaches a priest or a deacon does not imply and cannot represent in any way an approval of the union between the two’ is a gratuitous assertion and obviously false. FS may say this, but it cannot clarify that this is the case, since it obviously isn’t the case!

‘A blessing is a blessing’

Theologian and liturgist Dr. Peter Kwasniewski also argued against Tornielli, stating that “[f]undamentally, however, one should reject this idea that a priest can give a blessing that is not an exercise of his priesthood and therefore, as such, also involves the Church and is proto-liturgical if not formally so.”

To do otherwise would mean that “otherwise it isn’t a priestly blessing but a Hallmark greeting,” wrote Kwasniewski.

In his statement issued to LifeSiteNews and also published online, Kwasniewski attested that “just because someone else made a distinction between ‘liturgical and non-liturgical blessings’ doesn’t make it any more true if there is good reason to question that distinction itself.”

He also questioned why – if the CDF’s 2000 document was actually behind the rationale of Fiducia Supplicans – it was not cited in the November declaration from the CDF.

Kwasniewski warned about accepting the error of the “divorce between the person of the priest and his formal exercise of priesthood.” 

A blessing is a blessing is a blessing, regardless of whether a priest takes 10 seconds or 10 minutes, wears a stole or a hoodie, reads from a liturgical book or freewheels it. If it is not a blessing given on behalf of Christ the High Priest, and so, already in some sense liturgical (since ‘liturgy’ means ‘the work of one on behalf of many’), then it is vain and superstitious speech.

Like the Dominican, Kwasniewski also pointed to a larger issue with Fiducia Supplicans, stating that the Vatican declaration was “an attempt to open up a safe space for homosexuality in the Catholic Church, even as the Anglicans have done by approving the blessing of same-sex couples while not calling it ‘marriage.’”

Prayer can ‘never be diverted’ to approve of ‘sin’

Such lines from the two theologians bear similarities to the resounding critique of Fiducia Supplicans issued by Cardinal Robert Sarah in early January.

READ: Cardinal Sarah strongly rejects Fiducia Supplicans, ‘heresy’ of same-sex ‘blessings’  

Writing in detail about the attempted distinction between forms of blessings, Sarah stated in full:

Allow me, therefore, not to fall into vain arguments about the meaning of the word blessing. It’s obvious that we can pray for the sinner, it’s obvious that we can ask God for his conversion. It’s obvious that we can bless the man who, little by little, turns to God to humbly ask for the grace of a true and radical change in his life. The Church’s prayer is not denied to anyone. 

But it can never be diverted to become a legitimization of sin, of the structure of sin, or even of the impending occasion of sin. The contrite and penitent heart, even if still far from holiness, must be blessed. 

But let’s remember that, in the face of unconverted and hardened hearts, no words of blessing come from the mouth of St. Paul, but rather this warning: ‘With your hardened heart, which does not want to be converted, you are storing up wrath against yourself for that day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, he who will render to each according to his deeds’ (Rom 2:5-6).

Indeed, also issuing a scathing theological destruction of Tornielli’s argument, the Daily Compass’ Luisella Scrosati argued that “[t]he magician-mentalist Tornielli must have been somewhat rusty in his illusionist arts, if he thinks of deceiving someone with the pseudo reference to Ratzinger.” 

“Rather,” Scrosati added, “such an article demonstrates once again the now total lack of authority of this pontificate, that the appointment to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith of a theologian of Fernández’s ‘caliber’ could only get worse.”