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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

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RoundtableThe Church

Blessing Same-Sex Couples: a CA Roundtable

The latest bombshell from Rome has the whole Church talking. Here's what we think.

This week, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published the declaration Fiducia Supplicans (FS), which reflects on the theology of blessing and, for the first time, sanctions clerical blessings of same-sex couples and mixed-sex couples in irregular unions. This has sparked no little controversy, particularly since that same dicastery ruled out, with the pope’s approval, the possibility of any such blessings just two years ago. The implications of the change are complex and far-reaching. In this Catholic Answers Roundtable, we offer perspectives from Catholic Answers staff on this text and what it means.

Trent Horn, apologist

This document, in principle, is orthodox, because it speaks of sinners seeking “spontaneous” blessings in order to live better lives, which is not a problem. But something can be technically true and yet confuse people and lead to scandal if it is uttered without qualification.

It’s technically true, for instance, that “Catholics worship Mary,” but this is easily mistaken for idolatry without the qualification that worship can refer generally to a kind of honor (“worths-ship”) and that the highest form of worship is reserved to God alone. Likewise, it is technically true that a priest can bless “gay couples,” but this is easily mistaken for a commendation of sin without the express qualification that the blessing is for each individual to grow closer to God.

So, although the document may be read as orthodox in principle, we can object to its likely interpretation and effects in practice. One big concern I have is that permission for a licit spontaneous blessing to those who genuinely seek God will quickly become permission (or possibly even an obligation under some bishops) to bless relationships of people who simply want the Church to validate their sinful desires.

Frankly, a better approach would be to allow for the blessing of same-sex couples via an official blessing in the Book of Blessings that is patterned after the blessings given to those suffering from drug abuse. The priest could say something like “For N., bound by the chains of disordered sexual attraction, that we encourage and assist him/her in his/her struggle, we pray. R.”

Given the practical difficulty involved in the wide variety of ministers giving and individuals seeking these “spontaneous blessings,” I would not have released the document—or at I least I would have included the reminder from the 2021 DDF ruling, still in force, that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

Drew Belsky, content editor

Catholics undergoing a crisis of confidence after Fiducia Supplicans are in good company—or at least I hope so, because they’re in my company.

It’s not the first time. I remember feeling pierced when Amoris Laetitia came out—this when someone close to me, in whose spiritual good I was very much invested, had just finished several years of grueling work to repair an “irregular” adulterous situation. A big part of that long restoration involved forgoing Communion, every Sunday, for years. I read Amoris and thought, aggrieved, Why this heroic work? Why bother?

Now, in a similar way, those who have sacrificed much to defend the Church’s stance on sodomy and human integrity must feel stomped on. Why take those stands, risk those friendships, lose those jobs? Because we were Pharisees the whole time, leaning into our loyalty to a Church that up until this past week was also Pharisaical?

The answer is that it was the right thing to do then, and it is still the right thing to do now. Even in a document like FS, and however obliquely, however grudgingly, the Church’s wisdom perdures. And so the more the world reviles this wisdom, the more we conform ourselves to the ostracization and the acute suffering of Christ when we vigorously defend it. If even priests, bishops, and Catholic celebrities appear to shrink from this wisdom, all the more so.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus warns his followers that “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Let that admonishment apply to us, too, and let us bruised and bloodied disciples be revealed as all the more faithful for the threshing.

Karlo Broussard, apologist

Fiducia Supplicans has caused quite a stir. As always, there’s a need for clarity. So let’s begin with a distinction.

As many have noted, it’s one thing for a priest to bless an immoral relationship, whether it involves people of the opposite sex or same sex, and it’s another thing to give a “simple blessing” (38) to persons who happen to be living in such immorality. The former seeks to legitimize the relationship itself. The latter implores God to give the actual graces needed for the couple to live in accord with God’s will.

The text of FS gives some reason to think that the DDF doesn’t envision the former. For example, it sees such blessings as “not convey[ing] an erroneous conception of marriage” and assuming “situations that are morally unacceptable from an objective point of view” (26, emphasis added).

Furthermore, such blessings must avoid “all serious forms of scandal and confusion among the faithful” (30), and those in immoral relationships who present themselves for a simple priestly blessing must not be “claim[ing] a legitimation of their own status” (31).

What the DDF does envision is a priestly blessing that implores God’s help to move the persons toward upright living, supplicating God to give them “actual grace” (temporary divine helps) so their relationships “may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel” and “that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties” (31, emphases added), receiving those “spiritual aids that enable everyone to understand and realize God’s will fully in their existence” (32, emphases added).

These passages do not expressly say that the blessings are ordered to the reform of immoral sexual behavior. But we may certainly read “growing in fidelity to the Gospel” and “realizing God’s will fully” as including such reform. So, according to the declaration, this is what a priest ought to intend if he chooses to give such a blessing.

But what about the couple? Must they be seeking reformation? The declaration does seem to envision this, too. The couple’s request for such a blessing must involve “a plea to live better” (21) and a “desire to be guided to a greater understanding of [God’s] plan of love and truth” (30). The couple are presumed to be “recognizing themselves to be destitute” and not claiming “a legitimation of their own status” (31).

Now, whether such couples seeking blessings would have or communicate the above desires is a separate issue. I recognize that all things are possible with God’s grace. But it’s hard to imagine many such scenarios in real life. And there’s yet another distinction, one the DDF seemingly has failed to consider: the DDF’s expressed meaning of this blessing and the populace’s perceived meaning, which in our cultural climate it simply doesn’t have the ears to hear. (There’s no need to belabor this point.) This creates a pastoral nightmare directly opposed to the pastoral good the declaration seeks—the “scandal and confusion” (30) that it professes to want to avoid.

In his remarks, Trent Horn points out the confusing meaning of the word worship in Catholic apologetics. And just as we shouldn’t go to a Protestant Bible study and say we “worship” saints while mentally intending the older meaning of “honor,” so too we shouldn’t be declaring to the universal Church the permission for priests to give a “simple blessing” to couples in sinful relationships even if we intend by this blessing a supplication for God’s grace for the couple to reform their immoral behavior.

Here’s the bottom line: the DDF is safe doctrinally but has failed (gravely?) in exercising pastoral prudence. The damage has been done. Confusion is setting in. Let’s implore God that he will bring order out of disorder and peace out of chaos.

Cy Kellett, host, Catholic Answers Live

I have been traveling more than usual the last two months, visiting parishes in various places around the country, and, of course, I get to talk with Catholics every day on the radio.

With this experience in mind, I must admit, I wince a little whenever Pope Francis makes the news. He once asked young people to go make a mess, and the man follows his own advice. Although I believe there is some method to his mess-making—he clearly believes that Christianity is in a kind of doldrums and needs to be aroused to face new challenges amidst new realities—I also think that his method involves “creative destruction.”

He imposes heavy burdens. He must know that his actions will create immense noise and confusion, and yet he asks the faithful to remain sanguine despite it all.

Is that fair?

At every talk I give, I meet people who are at their wits‘ end with Francis and people who are at their wits‘ end with those who oppose Francis. Everybody seems on edge. This isn’t helping.

Fiducia Supplicans, in my view, is basically correct in its approach to blessings—if what it’s saying is that Pope Francis wants people to receive the blessings of the Church without priests actually blessing sinful unions. But it will take a generation, at least, for the Church to work through all the creative interpretations and abuses that will now follow.

Is Pope Francis comfortable with this reality? His actions don’t indicate otherwise.

I admit that I am not, and I admit that I am concerned that too much is being asked of the sheep of Christ’s flock—a flock already forced to endure decades of scandal, court-imposed financial wounds, and media derision.

Todd Aglialoro, director of publishing

Let’s start with what we can all agree on: “an exhaustive moral analysis” (25) is not a precondition for giving a blessing to someone who asks for it. Sinners need blessings—first and foremost to give them the actual grace and mental resolve to sin no more and to be reconciled with God, Church, and neighbor.

This non-controversial point needs to be squared, however, with the DDF’s requirement that “what is blessed” be something “conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church” (9).

Even a specially wicked sinner who asks for a blessing for himself may be reasonably presumed to be seeking needed graces, not ecclesial approval for the sins he has committed. And no one has ever voiced a doubt about what the Church may or should do in such a circumstance: give the blessing. Just as no one has ever voiced a doubt about what the Church may or should do if a sinner expressly communicated that he was seeking approval specifically of his sinful acts: deny the blessing.

What about the case of a “same-sex couple”—commonly understood to mean two persons of the same sex who consider themselves in a pseudo-conjugal personal union, including genital activity that mimics marital intercourse—presenting themselves corporately, expressly as a couple, for a blessing? What is the thing that we should reasonably infer they are seeking to have blessed, the thing that must be in conformity with Church teaching?

Fiducia Supplicans suggests that it is not their false claim to legitimate conjugal union or the sinful sexual acts that accompany it, but rather “all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships” (31).

This strikes me as, at best, an unrealistic view.

That such couples in most cases will be presenting their couplehood as the principal “what is blessed,” rather than either their individual spiritual journeys or the laudable aspects of their relationship severed from its sinful parts, seems both commonsensical and manifest. The mental contortions necessary to arrive at one of those latter conclusions are simply not how people ordinarily think and talk. That masses of observers—inside the Church and outside, ideologically interested in the outcome and disinterested—are now viewing this document as a step toward Catholic acceptance of homosexuality evinces this.

So does FS, which repeatedly refers to blessing “couples” and markedly, though it includes imperative language for how the couple may dress for their blessing, does not require repudiation of the claim to legitimate conjugal couplehood as a precondition for receiving it. And so, same-sex couples who stand before a priest hand in hand to receive a benediction will quite reasonably feel that their “union” has been affirmed in its totality—not just partially affirmed and certainly not, as FS’s weird logic seems to think possible, acknowledged as “morally unacceptable from an objective point of view” (26).

This is giving people a serpent when they ask for a fish. It is to entrench them still more deeply in a disordered way of life that is contrary to their human happiness. It is against authentic mercy, of which one of the spiritual works is admonishment of the sinner.

Importantly, FS does not change Church teaching on the nature of marriage or the morality of homosexual acts, or on any other matter of moral or theological doctrine. Its assertions are on the level of prudence, not dogma. Thus, it is not in any way a test of papal teaching authority or the authority of the pope’s collaborators in the Roman Curia to clarify or interpret doctrine in his name.

Because it occupies the level of prudence, though, the claims in FS may be criticized with prudential arguments. From the perspective of practical reason—and whatever the motives behind it, expressed or hidden—I fear that the result of this document will be to present confusion and scandal to the world, to dishearten and impede the efforts of faithful clerical and lay ministers currently resisting the tide of sexual libertinism (while emboldening those working to welcome it), and to distance from God’s healing truth and mercy those it is meant to help.

Joe Heschmeyer, apologist

It’s no surprise that this declaration has created the controversy that it has, partly because of (inaccurate) media reporting, partly from portions of the document that seem confusing or vague, and partly from the scandalous way it is already being implemented. I think we have a dual obligation: to interpret the document charitably and to be charitable to those who (not without reason) are scandalized or confused by it.

Blessing and sin are not strictly incompatible. How do we begin in the confessional? “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” And if we find ourselves at Mass in a state of mortal sin and can’t receive Communion, what do many of us do? Go up to receive a blessing. So it’s not revolutionary to say, as the Church did in 2021, that God can bless people struggling with same-sex attraction (or even living such a lifestyle) but can’t and won’t bless sinful unions.

So what has the DDF now added to the conversation? The idea that in certain contexts, a priest might give an informal blessing to a “same-sex couple.” It’s not true, therefore (as some have said), that the DDF is okaying the blessing of same-sex “unions.” But it’s also not true (as others have claimed) that this is nothing new, since it’s just about blessing same-sex-attracted individuals. It’s not about individuals or unions, but a third thing, seemingly in between the two: a “couple.”

I think the most charitable way both to interpret and implement the declaration is to remember that “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). So we need to avoid two errors: first, imagining that we need to be holy before we can come before Jesus, and second, thinking that Jesus wants us to stay as the sinners he found us.

Instead, the gospel message is that Jesus loved us tremendously and unreservedly even in the midst of our sin, and that he loves us enough to both call us to conversion and give us the graces needed to live a better, holier, more satisfying life than the one we might otherwise choose for ourselves.

Tom Nash, contributing apologist

During his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently preached on “spiritual accompaniment,” which, “if it is docile to the Holy Spirit, helps to unmask misunderstandings, even grave ones, in our consideration of ourselves and our relationship with the Lord.” As the pope adds elsewhere, “For God’s grace changes lives: he takes us as we are, but he never leaves us as we are“ (emphases added).

Blessings, which invoke God’s favor, are designed to help us draw closer to the Lord in striving to do what is right. The DDF distinguishes such proposed blessings for same-sex couples from those given to married couples or ones associated with civil unions (4–6, 11, 26, 30–31, 38–39). However, when a document says “Not X, yet X by other means,” the distinction appears thin, and we should not charge the media with “intentionally misinterpreting” what they read or look down on ordinary people for their plain reading. They are simply making a logical inference from the document’s own provisions.

And they’re not alone.

DignityUSA, whose “statement of position and purpose” includes that homosexuals “can express our sexuality physically, in a unitive manner that is loving, life-giving, and life-affirming,” describes the DDF’s decision as “a key step forward.” New Ways Ministry, another organization that seeks to sanctify sodomy within the Church, states, “It cannot be overstated how significant the Vatican’s new declaration is. Approving blessings for same-gender couples is certainly monumental.”

The DDF has not corrected those who are running with such conclusions, and nowhere does FS acknowledge and affirm chaste living, as do faithful apostolates that minister to persons with same-sex attraction. Consequently, whatever good intention he may have, a cleric who attempts to bless the relationship of a same-sex couple will do them a grave disservice, because, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) noted in 2021, God does not bless sin but rather “blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him” (emphasis added).

In addition, it is pastorally disingenuous to try to distinguish between a blessing bestowed according to “a special liturgical rite” (11) and one that is not so given. As the Catechism provides, blessings are a type of sacramental, and so they are a form of “other liturgical celebrations” (see 1667–1672 and related chapter four heading, emphasis added).

The DDF also speaks of a pastor’s blessing that “does not claim to sanction or legitimize anything” (34), yet it authorizes blessing same-sex couples as couples, not as individuals or even as friends striving to live chastely as brothers or sisters in Christ. Who’s fooling whom? Who’s misleading whom?

The Lord’s word in Genesis, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), applies to all human persons. Everyone needs friends; everyone needs true accompaniment and fellowship. The Church must renew its mission in helping all the faithful support each other through acts of authentic Christ-centered love (John 14:21–24).

Christopher Check, president

When moral theologians determine whether an act is good or evil, they start with the object—that is, the thing you are choosing to do. Imagine planting a grove of olive trees in your backyard.

But wait, there’s more. Moralists next look at your intention: the why of the choice. If you plant the olive grove in your backyard because it adds beauty to the landscape, provides olives and oil and wood to carve, and gives the songbirds branches to perch on, good for you and your moral act. All the better if your motives are informed by your belief that oil from the Chrism Mass is the sacramental sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What if, however, you know your neighbor is allergic to olive trees and you desire to irritate him because his teenage son practices his drums in the garage at 5:30 every afternoon when you are trying to enjoy your gin and tonic on the back deck? Now your bad intention—petty vengeance—has rendered your act an evil one.

Things can become a bit more involved when we look at the third element of the moral act: the circumstances. These are the moral context for the object and intention and the consequences of the act. Circumstances make it possible to perform a good act with a good intention but still have the act rendered evil if we foresee them, they are grave enough, and we proceed nonetheless.

Let’s go back to your backyard. Imagine you desire to plant the olive grove, and you intend all the good effects, but you also know that your neighbor’s allergy is severe and could hospitalize him. In this version of events, you don’t wish ill on your neighbor; in fact, you kind of like him. Nevertheless, you foresee what effect will likely result if you plant the trees, and you plant them anyway. Now we have an act that is, at the very least, morally problematic, and probably worse.

At the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, there are surely one or two moral theologians who understand these components of a moral act, set down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1750–1761). They must certainly be familiar with the fundamentals of Christian morality. Yet, within hours of the Dicastery’s publication of Fiducia Supplicans, media all over the globe reported that the Catholic Church had reversed its teaching of 2021 that homosexual couples and “irregular” heterosexual couples cannot be blessed. Within forty-eight hours, James Martin, S.J., shared on his social media how honored he was “to bless my friends Jason and Damian this morning in our Jesuit residence, according to the new guidelines laid out by the Vatican for same-sex couples.” Do Jason and Damian understand the nuances Fiducia attempts to offer? Or do they think, as Fr. Martin has stated, that we should not believe those who say nothing has changed in the Church’s teaching, because, in fact, something has?

Who saw this coming? If no one at the Dicastery did, then we have a grave staffing problem in the very office charged with the safeguarding of faith and morals and preventing scandal. If someone at the Vatican did know, and kept silent, then we have a lack of what we called in the Marine Corps “moral courage.” If the reaction was anticipated and the document released all the same, then we have an act that is, at the very least, morally problematic, and probably much worse. Why? Because of scandal.

Scandal does not mean “shock.” Scandal exists even after the shock resulting from certain, often widely accepted, behaviors (today, pick almost any sin against chastity) has quieted or disappeared. Scandal means “stumbling block” or, more simply, bad example. And it continues, even in the absence of shock, to offend against the Fifth Commandment, because it kills the life of grace in the soul. The Catechism tells us that “scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense” (2284). If Jason and Damian think that the Catholic Church has now accepted or embraced, in some way, their same-sex union, then we have grave scandal.

So we are left with a painful puzzle to faithful Catholics: why would Rome cause scandal? Did it not know what consequences FS would produce? Or were these consequences known—and assented to beforehand—as something good? Are they unaware of the moral context—widespread acceptance of unchaste same-sex relationships—into which FS would land?

One telltale sign (and not of the Holy Spirit): the word repent is noticeably absent from the document. Oremus.

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