Volume > Issue > Fiducia Supplicans: A Fine Mess

Fiducia Supplicans: A Fine Mess

ANOTHER PAPAL PRATFALL

By Pieter Vree | April 2024
Pieter Vree is Editor of the NOR.

Once upon a time, the Catholic Church had a well-respected and often feared curial division. One of its purposes was to censure and correct errant strains of theological thought and combat heterodoxy and heresy. In its earlier iteration as the foremost defender of orthodox Catholic doctrine, it was commonly known as the Holy Office. In more recent years, it was called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Back in those halcyon days, it was manned by serious and competent theologians, and its edicts were often highly anticipated and studiously received.

Those days are over.

Two years ago, Pope Francis renamed it the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF). But it might more fittingly be called the Silly Office as it’s now manned by charlatans who, by all appearances, seem to be less interested in defending the Deposit of Faith handed down by the Apostles than in conforming it to current mores.

Nothing makes this clearer than the row over the first edict issued by its recently installed prefect, Víctor Manuel Cardinal Fernández. Nicknamed “Tucho,” this Argentinian prelate has been called the Pope’s “primary ghostwriter” and is widely believed to be the author of Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016), which infamously calls for greater latitude in allowing divorced and “remarried” Catholics to receive Holy Communion. He also wrote two books of erotic theology, Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing (1995) and The Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality (1998), the latter of which contains graphic descriptions of sexual relations and a discussion of what Señor Tucho calls “mystical orgasm.”

Creepy! Yes, this is the man now overseeing the doctrinal office.

When announcing Fernández’s appointment to the DDF, Francis included what Elise Ann Allen, senior correspondent for Crux.com (July 1, 2023), called a “highly unusual personal letter” expressing his expectations of Fernández in his new role. In the past, Francis wrote, the Holy Office used “immoral methods” to “persecute…possible doctrinal errors.” Is this a veiled critique of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who was prefect of the CDF for over 23 years before ascending to the papal throne? Or is Francis cribbing the caricatures of the Inquisition found in secular history books? Who knows! He doesn’t bother to specify what those “immoral methods” were or when they were used.

By contrast, Francis told Fernández, “What I expect of you is undoubtedly something very different.” He wants Tucho to allow various strains of philosophical, theological, and pastoral thought “to be harmonized by the Spirit” so as to “make the Church grow.” This growth, he said, will preserve Christian doctrine “more effectively than any control mechanism.”

And then, in a stunning break from the past, Francis instructs Fernández to ensure that the DDF’s decisions reflect “the recent Magisterium” — meaning Francis’s own peculiar vision for the Church.

What hubris! Does Francis expect his charge to ignore or — Heaven forbid — overturn the historical Magisterium?

Well, yes.

With his marching orders in hand, Tucho’s first move, after a mere five months on the job, was to issue Fiducia Supplicans (“On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings”).

Released this past December and signed by Pope Francis, Fiducia Supplicans (FS) permits priests to impart “spontaneous” blessings on couples in “irregular situations,” including “same-sex couples” — while stopping short of allowing liturgical blessings of such couples or “legitimizing” their status.

And yet, these blessings, FS states, “descend from God upon those who…beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit,” so that their “human relationships may…express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.”

That sounds suspiciously like legitimization.

That homosexual relationships could be “elevated” by the Holy Spirit and “express themselves” in the “ever-increasing dimension of the divine love” is, frankly, contrary to Holy Scripture. As St. Paul said, “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God…. Neither [will] the immoral…nor adulterers, nor homosexuals” (1 Cor. 6:9; Ignatius Study Bible). It is likewise contrary to Holy Writ to bless those who remain in same-sex or other “irregular” relationships. Again, we may refer to St. Paul: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).

But you don’t have to take St. Paul’s word for it.

As soon as Fernández issued FS, an army of Catholic intellectuals, media personalities, theologians, priests, bishops, priestly congregations, and entire episcopal conferences questioned and even denounced the declaration. Joining the Dutch, Ukrainian, Haitian, Hungarian, Kazakhstani, and Polish episcopal conferences in rejecting FS were, among others, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the superior general of which declared, “We see no situation in which such a blessing of a couple could be properly and adequately distinguished from some level of approval of the irregular relationship, leading to the scandal of the faithful. Such blessings (liturgical or spontaneous) would work against the legitimate care a priest or deacon owes to his flock.”

Even priests in the homosexual hotbed of San Francisco publicly declared their refusal to abide by FS. “As a result of this declaration, a turbulent storm of confusion and division has engulfed the Catholic Church,” said the Very Rev. Kevin Kennedy, pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral, in a statement. “We were ordained to the priesthood to serve the mission of the Church, which is the salvation of souls. We have been appointed by the Archbishop to faithfully proclaim the Gospel in its fullness…. Neither I nor [parochial vicar] Fr. [Jerald] Geronimo will be imparting blessings to couples in irregular unions, including same-sex couples.”

This was becoming an unprecedented calamity.

All those who demurred from the declaration could claim to have the historical Magisterium on their side — the recent historical Magisterium. In February 2021 the CDF, under the direction of Luís Cardinal Ladaria, published a Responsum ad dubium on the same topic that was simple, direct, and to the point. It read:

TO THE QUESTION PROPOSED:

  Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?

RESPONSE:
Negative.

Tucho’s DDF had attempted a complete one-eighty, stating that what had been forbidden in the Church — or, more specifically, not in her power to do — is now permitted. (N.B.: The responsum was not signed by Francis, but he did give his “assent” to its publication.) Instead of charting a reversal of course, FS caused a spinout, leading to another papal pratfall.

Within five days of its release, veteran Vatican correspondent Christopher J. Altieri could say that FS had “failed spectacularly” (The Catholic World Report, Dec. 23). “It is unlikely,” he wrote, that “either Fernández or Pope Francis expected the tsunami of reaction that came in short order.”

How obtuse! Did our men in Rome really have no inkling that their ill-considered and ill-fated attempt to harmonize homosexual relationships with the Spirit would result in what Catholic News Agency would call an “international backlash” (Jan. 14)? It seems they did anticipate at least a minor revolt because baked into FS is a pre-emptive attempt to shut down any debate it might engender. “What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples,” FS declares, is “sufficient”; therefore, “beyond the guidance provided…no further responses should be expected.”

Yet here Fernández was, just after the New Year, offering the very responses he had insisted wouldn’t be forthcoming. First, he consented to a series of interviews. In one, he insisted that bishops may not prohibit what the Pope has permitted. In another, he demeaned the people his declaration had provoked, saying they had deliberately misread FS, and accused them of receiving it in a spirit of mala leche (spoiled milk). Finally, he had to issue a five-page clarification of the declaration.

That’s when the other shoe dropped: It was revealed that bishops representing the entire continent of Africa had informed Francis and Fernández that they would not obey FS.

The DDF’s declaration “caused a shockwave in Africa,” said Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo Besungu, OFM Cap., archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). Upon receiving FS, he contacted the members of SECAM and collated their responses in a document, which he took to Rome and presented to the Pope.

Ambongo and Francis “reached an agreement,” the cardinal recounted to Catholic News Agency (Jan. 22). “I told him that the solution to this issue is no longer to send us documents with theological or philosophical definitions of blessings. The people are not interested in that. What is of interest now is a communication that reassures the people in Africa, that calms the spirits of the faithful.”

Incredible! In what other circumstances could a cardinal get away with telling a pope to stop sending documents?

But that’s not all. With Francis’s agreement, Ambongo and Fernández drafted a new document, which Ambongo signed “as president of SECAM on behalf of the entire Catholic Church in Africa.” Tucho signed it as well. It is “not the document that was made public, but the document that we keep in the archives,” Ambongo explained. “The document is titled ‘No to the blessing of homosexual couples in the Catholic Churches.’”

Yes, the man commissioned to advance Francis’s “recent Magisterium” literally signed off on an official act of dissent from it — and with Francis’s approval, no less. It was a severe blow to the legitimacy of their project.

At that point, it was up to the Big Man to do his own damage control. And, as is to be expected, he did so in typical Franciscan fashion.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa (Jan. 29), the Pope addressed criticisms of FS, saying that “those who vehemently protest belong to small ideological groups.” Obviously, that was a patently false statement. Or does His Holiness consider episcopal conferences to be small, ideological groups? Is an entire continent a small, ideological group? Er, no. Even His Bergogliosity didn’t try to get away with that. The Church in Africa is “a special case,” he said. “For them, homosexuality is something ‘ugly’ from a cultural point of view; they do not tolerate it.”

That raises a couple questions. What about those of us in Western cultures, where homosexuality is seen as something beautiful, who also find it ugly: Why must we be made to tolerate it? Are we not “special”? It’s a mind-boggling discrepancy, ratified at the highest levels of ecclesial authority.

We have entered a strange new era in Church history in which rules that apply to some cultures do not apply to others — one in which the Supreme Pontiff, heretofore the visible source of the unity of the Church, is the one sowing division. The Catholic Church is supposed to speak in one voice, down the ages, in season and out. Now she doesn’t even speak in one voice to her own people!

To the shepherds of Africa and their flock, Francis’s “recent Magisterium” is a clanging cymbal that conflates the tongues of men with prophetic witness. It makes a useless noise and is best ignored.

If this is so for African Catholics, then why not for the rest of us?

The Pope has nobody but himself to blame for the shambolic mess he’s made. With FS, he overplayed his hand, exposing his “recent Magisterium” as phony, a limp rival to the real and perennial Magisterium, and damaging his moral authority. He now deals from a position of weakness. Can he regain his leverage at this late stage in his pontificate? Or is this latest Franciscan fiasco “a big enough crisis,” as Altieri puts it, that it “could put the implosion of a pontificate on display for the entire world, in real time”?

 

“A Church of ‘tomorrow’ that would replace a Church of ‘yesterday’ would be a contradiction of the very nature of the Church. He whose heart is more thrilled by the idea of a changing Church than by the glorious identity and stability of the Church has lost the sensus supranaturalis and shows that he no longer loves the Church.” — Dietrich von Hildebrand, Trojan Horse in the City of God

 

©2024 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

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