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Victor Cardinal Fernández speaking to media, September 30, 2023.Michael Haynes/LifeSiteNews

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Victor Fernández has released a press statement intended to “clarify” his Fiducia Supplicans text which allowed blessings of same-sex couples, in an attempt to limit the widespread opposition from bishops to such blessings. Fernández also warned that there “is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally” from Fiducia Supplicans.

Issued January 4, Cardinal Fernández’s press release was an attempt “to help clarify the reception of Fiducia Supplicans, while recommending at the same time a full and calm reading of the Declaration so as to better understand its meaning and purpose.” 

Fiducia Supplicans was released December 18, 2023, and allowed “blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex,” while adding that the Church’s teaching on marriage between one man and one woman remained unchanged.

READ: Pope Francis publishes norms for clergy to ‘bless’ homosexual couples

Its unannounced arrival caused a storm in the Church, with large numbers of bishops and bishops’ conferences around the world expressing outrage and opposition to the text. Such rejections of the document have been particularly strong across Africa.

Referencing these reactions, though without naming any in particular, Fernández wrote that “the understandable statements of some Episcopal Conferences regarding the document Fiducia Supplicans have the value of highlighting the need for a more extended period of pastoral reflection.”

READ: Archbishop Aguer: Francis’ document Fiducia Supplicans must not be obeyed

He argued – seemingly against undeniable evidence – that the responses from bishops’ conferences “cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition, because the document is clear and definitive about marriage and sexuality.”

Quoting from his own introduction to Fiducia Supplicans, along with paragraphs 4, 5, and 11 – which presented Church teaching on marriage – Fernández argued that “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.”

Bishops’ rejection of blessings

Opposition to Fiducia Supplicans has not been sparked by its pronouncements on the nature of marriage, however. Bishops have welcomed how the text outlines the true teaching on the sacrament. Rather, the opposition is to blessings being offered to same-sex couples.

The new prefect of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) admitted that “some bishops, however, express themselves in particular regarding a practical aspect: the possible blessings of couples in irregular situations.” 

Fiducia Supplicans section 31 reads clearly that:

Within the horizon outlined here is the possibility of blessings of couples in irregular situations and of same-sex couples, the form of which should not find any ritual fixation on the part of ecclesial authorities, in order not to produce confusion with the blessing proper to the sacrament of marriage.

Fernández argued that this was calling for blessings of people who are together, but not of their unions per se: “the Declaration contains a proposal for short and simple pastoral blessings (neither liturgical nor ritualised) of couples in irregular situations (but not of their unions), underlining that these are blessings without a liturgical format which neither approve nor justify the situation in which these people find themselves.”

Writing that different dioceses will implement Fiducia Supplicans at different times “depending on local contexts and the discernment of each diocesan Bishop with his Diocese,” and that each bishop has authority of his own diocese, Fernández nevertheless prohibited bishops banning priests from acting in line with Fiducia Supplicans: 

Prudence and attention to the ecclesial context and to the local culture could allow for different methods of application, but not a total or definitive denial of this path that is proposed to priests.

Veiled warning to Africa

The response form Africa’s various bishops’ conference has been notably strong, with numerous bishops warning priests against any blessings of same-sex couples.

READ: FULL LIST: Where do bishops stand on blessings for homosexual couples?

Cameroon’s bishops issued a statement of nearly unmatched forthrightness in which the bishops declared “we formally forbid all blessing of ‘homosexual couples’ in the Church of Cameroon.” Contrary to many liberal societies in the West, homosexuality is not socially accepted behavior throughout much of Africa,  a reality highlighted by a number of bishops on the continent in their respective responses. 

Fernández, while noting the differing laws prohibiting homosexuality, warned against any opposition to Fiducia Supplicans even in principle. “It remains vital that these Episcopal Conferences do not support a doctrine different from that of the Declaration signed by the Pope, given that it is perennial doctrine, but rather that they recommend the need for study and discernment so as to act with pastoral prudence in such a context,” he wrote. 

READ: Archbishop of Nairobi prohibits blessings of same-sex ‘couples’

In countries where homosexuality is illegal, Fernández called on local bishops not to re-iterate the church’s own condemnation of homosexual actions, but to focus on the “great and wide-ranging pastoral responsibility that includes training, the defense of human dignity, the teaching of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and various strategies that do not admit of a rushed response.”

Liturgical or pastoral?

A key debate which has raged since the emergence of Fernández’s December 18 text is the question of the blessing itself. Fernández argued at the time that blessings for same-sex couples were “pastoral,” while numerous bishops argued that such an attempted differentiation for a blessing of such a couple was mere equivocation. 

Nevertheless, Fernández has re-iterated his position in his January 4 press release:

The real novelty of this Declaration, the one that requires a generous effort of reception and from which no one should declare themselves excluded, is not the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations. 

It is the invitation to distinguish between two different forms of blessings: “liturgical or ritualized” and “spontaneous or pastoral.” The Presentation clearly explains that “the value of this document […] is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective.”

This “theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church,” he added.

READ: Archbishop Peta, Bishop Schneider ban ‘blessings’ of homosexual couples in Kazakhstan archdiocese

He argued that the “central theme” of Fiducia Supplicans “which invites us especially to a deeper pastoral practice which enriches our pastoral praxis, is to have a broader understanding of blessings and of the proposal that these pastoral blessings, which do not require the same conditions as blessings in a liturgical or ritual context, flourish.”

As such, he called on the entire Church to change its understanding of blessings:

Although some Bishops consider it prudent not to impart these blessings for the moment, we all need to grow equally in the conviction that: non-ritualized blessings are not a consecration of the person nor of the couple who receives them, they are not a justification of all their actions, and they are not an endorsement of the life that they lead. When the Pope asked us to grow in a broader understanding of pastoral blessings, he proposed that we think of a way of blessing that does not require the placing of so many conditions to carry out this simple gesture of pastoral closeness, which is a means of promoting openness to God in the midst of the most diverse circumstances.

15 second’ blessings

Offering concrete guidance on how a blessing for a same-sex couple might take place, Fernández suggested a formula for priests to use despite his previous statement that such blessings much be “spontaneous” and not formalized:

“Lord, look at these children of yours, grant them health, work, peace, and mutual help. Free them from everything that contradicts your Gospel and allow them to live according to your will. Amen.” Then it concludes with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons.

He stated that such blessings would be a request to God “for peace, health, and other good things,” along with the request by the one giving the blessing for the couple to “live the Gospel of Christ in full fidelity and so that the Holy Spirit can free these two people from everything that does not correspond to his divine will and from everything that requires purification.”

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Cardinal Fernández says blessings are for ‘every’ person in ‘every situation’

“We are talking about something that lasts about 10 or 15 seconds,” he said. “Does it make sense to deny these kinds of blessings to these two people who ask for them?”

Closing, Cardinal Fernández stipulated that “we will all have to become accustomed to accepting the fact that, if a priest gives this type of simple blessings [sic], he is not a heretic, he is not ratifying anything, nor is he denying Catholic doctrine.”

Today’s press statement comes after FS stated there would be “no further responses…about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type” on the matter of same-sex blessings.