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PARIS (LifeSiteNews) — In France, one of the very first episcopal reactions to Fiducia Supplicans, the December 18 Declaration by which the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, authorized the benediction of “irregular” and “same-sex couples” with the full approval of Pope Francis, was a critical one. It was also unexpected insofar as nearly all of France’s bishops remained silent.

On December 27, Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne published a lengthy statement  in which he made clear that both those who are for and those against Fiducia Supplicans “almost unanimously” consider the document “a recognition by the Church of homosexual relations.” He questioned its most controversial aspects and called on the priests of his diocese to welcome all those in irregular relationships with “benevolence,” to make them conscious of God’s love for all men, to tell them tactfully of the “Truth that the Church teaches about their situation,” and to bless them if asked. However, priests are to bless them only individually, calling them to conversion, and inviting them to ask for “the grace that God gives all those who ask for it in order to put their lives in line with God’s will.”

On January 1, the ecclesial province of Rennes, which includes nine dioceses in Britany, Vendée, and Mayenne, published a shorter statement by Archbishop Pierre d’Ornellas of Rennes and the other bishops arriving at the same conclusion: blessings can be given only to individuals and not to “irregular couples” as such.

In contrast, the Bishop of Poitiers, Pascal Wintzer, enthusiastically commended Fiducia Supplicans on Décember 29. He even attempted to explain away the mention of “irregular situations” which upset the progressive wing of the Church and the mainstream media because, they said, it was a way of “marginalizing” those in them. Bishop Wintzer insisted that the term was purely juridical and attached to the legal aspects of marriage. “This is clearly a question of law and not of sentiment, and even less of good morals,” he wrote.

Regarding “remarried” divorcees and active homosexuals, Wintzer added: “By opening up the possibility of giving a blessing to people who make these human choices, the Catholic Church considers that God does not condemn them or consider them inveterate sinners; she chooses to be God’s messenger, who ‘speaks well’ of these people and accompanies their relationships. It would be a form of hypocrisy to make a distinction between people, seen solely as individuals, and what is decisive for their lives, in this case a choice for living as a couple or as a family.”

For Bishop Wintzer, at any rate, Fiducia Supplicans clearly “accompanies” the lifestyle of “irregular” and “same-sex couples,” and he criticized the African bishops’ resistance to its contents. “Far from being a perversion – perversion is a psychic illness or a moral fault – homosexuality is a fact,” he stated. Wintzer also called on the priests and lay pastoral agents of his diocese to be “creative.”

Bishop Aillet of Bayonne, on the other hand, spoke of the “disturbance” and “incomprehension” of many faithful, people who had recently returned to religious practice, and priests who are careful to remain faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. While protesting that he wished to show them how to “remain in a spirit of communion with the Apostolic Holy See,” he “respectfully” specified that some of the Declaration’s points require “clarification.”

Having discussed the first part of Fiducia Supplicans, which contains many reminders of the traditional teachings on marriage, Aillet stated: “In the third part of the declaration, there is a surreptitious shift from the possibility of blessing a person, whatever their situation, to a blessing granted to an irregular or same-sex ‘couple.’” He also regretted that in some places, such as in Germany or in Belgium, such blessings are already given and feared that the declaration would only encourage this practice.

Regarding the distinction between “pastoral” and “liturgical” blessings presented as a development of doctrine by Fiducia Supplicans, Bishop Aillet stressed that the 2021 responsum of the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not consider these blessings “in liturgical context” but rather “as a ‘sacramental’ which exists whatever the context,” and that existing blessings, even when imparted to groups such as pilgrims or catechists, have individual persons as their object.

He then made clear: “Here we come to the novelty of the Fiducia upplicans declaration, which lies not in the possibility of blessing one person in an irregular or homosexual situation, but of blessing two persons who present themselves as a ‘couple.’ It is therefore the ‘couple’ as an entity that invokes the blessing upon itself. However, while the text is careful not to use the terms ‘union,’ ‘partnership’ or ‘relationship’ – used by the former Congregation for its prohibition – it does not provide a definition of the notion of ‘couple,’ which has here become a new object of blessing.”

He also questioned the use of the word “couple” for a pair of homosexuals: “Is not sexual difference essential to the very constitution of a couple? This is an anthropological question that needs to be clarified to avoid confusion and ambiguity, for if the world has extended this notion to realities that do not enter into the Creator’s design, should not the magisterial word assume a certain rigor in its terminology to correspond as closely as possible to revealed, anthropological and theological truth?”

He went on to recall the moral status of homosexual relations as being “intrinsically disordered.” “By granting a blessing to a homosexual ‘couple,’ rather than just to two individuals, we appear to be endorsing the homosexual activity that links them, even if, once again, we make it clear that this union cannot be equated with marriage,” he wrote. On this point, Bishop Aillet quoted from Veritatis splendor which makes clear certain acts are “intrinsically evil” that are always prohibited, “in all circumstances,” even though on the subjective plane their authors cannot always be held accountable for them. Bishop Aillet noted that Fiducia Supplicans remains “silent about the particular sin that characterizes these situations.”

“Moreover, experience shows that it is not certain that this possibility of an ‘unconditional’ blessing is an aid to conversion,” he said. Priests should respond to their “prophetic” duty of teaching and recalled that “when Jesus showed His compassion to sinners, He always exhorted them to change their lives.” Blessing irregular or homosexual couples, he added, could imply the “risk of making them believe that their union was a legitimate stage of their journey.”

Bishop Aillet also noted that “pastoral care” and “doctrinal teaching” should not be opposed and recalled Jesus’ “uncompromising” handling of the Pharisees’ question on divorce. While telling all people of God’s love – “the proof of which is that Christ died and resurrected for all” – it is also necessary to tell them of “the Truth of the Gospel of Salvation,” which includes picking up one’s cross and following Our Lord. He concluded by quoting the admonition of Saint Paul: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect,” and recalling that it is impossible to help sinners to discover and conform to God’s will “without the Cross.”

Bishop Marc Aillet’s thoughtful and thorough analysis triggered a great deal of backlash among LGBT associations and the mainstream media. SOS-Homophobie asked for his text to be withdrawn or at least “purged” of all its references to “conversion.”

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

As for the ecclesiastical province of Rennes, the letter of eight bishops, one auxiliary bishop and one diocesan administrator questioning Fiducia Supplicans was not as expansive as that of Bishop Aillet. It quoted largely from the Declaration’s more traditional expressions. It insisted on “pastoral charity” and the “Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”

Nevertheless they did question the distinction between pastoral and liturgical benedictions: “Although the Declaration distinguishes between liturgical blessings and those given outside the liturgical framework, which can be practiced with ‘greater spontaneity and freedom,’ it must be emphasized that the ordained minister gives God’s blessing in the name of Christ,” they wrote, recalling that, as pastors, they are always “mediators” of His “holy benediction.”

Regarding Fiducia Supplicans’ third part, the bishops of the province of Rennes noted that the Declaration’s true “purpose” was to be found in the blessing of irregular and same-sex couples: “While it now deals with its object, the Declaration does not make explicit the reasoning that takes it from ‘persons’ to ‘couples’, a term absent from the first two parts. And yet, the word ‘couple’ has a particular meaning that would have deserved some clarification.”

They recalled the caveats included in the Declaration but clearly judged them to be inadequate, writing:

“In our society, where marriage has been trivialized by becoming a notion of civil law that ignores the foundational specificity of sexual differentiation, we have a mission to affirm prophetically, ‘with gentleness and respect’ (1 Pet 3:16), the great beauty of God’s design that created human beings, male and female, which Christ recalled. In this context, it is right, as the Declaration emphasizes, not to contribute to creating ‘confusion’ (n. 4, 5, 30, 31, 39) or ‘scandal’ (n. 30, 39). For this reason, it is appropriate to spontaneously bless, individually, each of the two persons forming a couple, whatever their sexual orientation, who humbly ask for God’s blessing with the desire to conform more and more to His holy will.”

In practice, by decision of the bishops, no same-sex couples should be blessed in the province, and those persons living in such unions can receive individual blessings only in view of their desire to live according to God’s law.

The auxiliary bishop of Rennes, Monsignor Jean Bondu, clarified for Famille chrétienne that while Fiducia Supplicans is a call to “pastoral charity,” it contains “ambiguities” and all should be done to avoid “confusion” and “scandal,” which is why only individual blessings must be considered.

Despite these clear examples of true pastoral charity – which includes teaching the truth – the Permanent Council of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) came up more than one week later, on January 10th, with a singularly weak reply to Fiducia Supplicans.

The press release from the CEF Permanent Council, headed by CEF president Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, notes that Fiducia Supplicans “has had a significant impact on public opinion, particularly because of the sensitive issues it addresses: on the one hand, the accompaniment in the Church of homosexuals living as a couple, and on the other, divorced people involved in married life.”

The statement says the French bishops “receive” the Declaration as an encouragement to pastors to generously bless those persons who come to them humbly asking for God’s help. In this way, they accompany them on their journey of faith, so that they can discover God’s call in their own lives and respond to it concretely.

An attentive reading of the statement will reveal that it speaks of blessing “persons,” not “couples,” but this is the only discreet, inconspicuous expression by which the Permanent Council distances itself from the aforementioned “ambiguities” or “questions” raised by Cardinal Fernandez’ Declaration. It goes on merely to quote from the latter’s call for “prayers of benediction” that are given spontaneously and without a ritualized form, without any sign that may assimilate them with marriage.

Even mainstream Catholic journalists have shown themselves to be uncomfortable with the CEF’s bland approval of Fiducia Supplicans. The editor-in-chief of Famille chrétienne, Antoine-Marie Izoard, publicly expressed his disappointment on X, in a message posted this Thursday morning: “Since mid-December, the faithful have been troubled and the Church has been torn by saddening divisions. The extreme caution of yesterday’s @Eglisecatho press release clearly did not provide a clear answer. Unless each ‘camp’ sticks to its guns. #regrets.”

Interestingly, the statement was presented as accepting the blessing of “same-sex couples” (as was the case in the liberal and “liberated” Libération as well as in the semi-official daily of the episcopate, La Croix), and as rejecting it in favor of the blessing of individuals by the Figaro’s more conservative religious correspondent, Jean-Marie Guénois.

Finally, one of the text’s signatories, Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, told the national radio station France-Info that the communiqué had not been read “carefully” by sources such as La Croix. Without explicitly naming the impossibility of blessing an irregular couple, he insisted repeatedly, stressing the word, that the text speaks of “persons” who can be blessed.

A link to Bishop Rougé’s interview has now been added under the official statement of the Permanent Council, reinforcing the impression that the Bishops’ conference is, on the one hand, unwilling to contradict Pope Francis but, on the other, will not apply Fiducia supplicans as it stands.

READ: Vatican official says St. Peter’s Basilica will bless homosexual ‘couples’