Below is my first blog post in a three-part series where I address the Vatican’s latest document on blessing irregular couples.
On Monday 18 December 2023 the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office in the Vatican that deals with doctrinal questions, released a document concerning whether couples in irregular statuses can receive blessings from the Church. These statuses include divorced and remarried couples as well as couples in same-sex relationships. The document is called Fiducia Supplicans, which translates as “begging in trust.”
Firstly, I intend in no way to whitewash this controversial document, or to set up ad hoc arguments to make everything seem fine. If by the end of the three articles the reader judges that I did in fact do those things, it would not be for lack of trying not to. Secondly, what follows is my humble thinking through of certain questions pertaining to the document, the nature of Christianity, of Christian faith, and finally of ecclesiology. If I have made any errors in my speculations (which are after all just speculations), I willingly accept charitable corrections and/or instruction from others.
The historical context of Fiducia Supplicans is one which involves the intersection of various factors. The following are the main ones which come to mind: (1) the crisis of the German synodal way and its threat of schism, (2) the hemorrhaging of Church membership throughout the western world, and (3) a pervasive secularism which lives in the Church and has profoundly infected her to the core.
What does the document say? In a few words, the document says that the Church’s teaching on marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable, it expounds a theology of blessings, and concludes with the possibility of blessing couples in these irregular situations while clarifying that the union itself is not blessed but the persons seeking the blessing.
What is the contention? It seems to me that it comes down to the fact that the document speaks of couples being blessed and not merely individual persons. The document affirms that a union against God’s will cannot be blessed but individual sinners can be, even if not repentant (which is nothing new). And yet the document speaks of blessing couples. It therefore follows that what the document means by “couple” is “two persons” and not “their union.” This is, at least, where the conversation has culminated among Catholics trying to read the document faithfully and according to its internal structure and hermeneutic. The distinctions concerning types of blessings, the reaffirmation of the Church's perennial teaching, and the distinction between "persons" and "unions" notwithstanding, many feel like they are being taken for fools since the document says that couples can be blessed and this is precisely the issue that was causing heartache with the German synodal way.
I intend in no way to stir animosity in the hearts of the faithful against the teaching authority of the Church, and especially not against the Apostolic See, which deserves our respect and filial love. That being said, it is a reality that many faithful Catholics feel like they are being taken for fools. Maybe they are wrong in thinking so, maybe they are right, but they are feeling this way. Instead of going on an angry rant through a YouTube video or a social media post, I would like to present to my Mother the Church, and to my Fathers in office, the concerns which come from humble children of the Church who seek the love and solicitude of their Mother. I pray that I do not overstep any boundary and that these three articles are able to be constructive and helpful.
It seems to me that this document was written precisely to prevent Germany from going into schism (it mentions multiple times that episcopal conferences do not have the power to bless unions with liturgical blessings). The intention to prevent a large scale schism ought to be shared by all faithful Catholics, but the fear is that the way in which this document will be taken could in fact create a schism here instead of in Germany. One can see the precarious tug going on between one side and the other. This gives us context, but does it justify the appearance of compromise? Of course what matters most is not where a schism takes place… but the truth of the Gospel—without which there would be no communion to begin with. This truth the Magisterium guards against worldly pressure—a pressure which seeks to distort the full breadth and depth of Our Lord’s salvific love for us.
This controversy gives rise to questions concerning the future of a Church that is disintegrating, concerning the practice of Christian faith in a secular landscape, and to the very nature of the Church herself. Many of those who follow my work online know that I have repeated several times then-Father Joseph Ratzinger’s prediction of what he called the “process of the de-secularization of the Church.” He writes that “either sooner or later, with or contrary to the will of the Church, according to the inner structural change, she will become externally a little flock.” In several places throughout his writings (as priest, bishop, and cardinal) he reiterates this prediction concerning the future of the Church: that she will be a little Church.
I believe that these observations on the secularism at the heart of the Church and on the hemorrhaging at the external peripheries of the Church actually shed light on the tensions present in certain places between young people and the hierarchy. Why is this pontificate so wrought with division and tension? Is it because of social media? Because of self-appointed theological experts on YouTube? Because of the Pope himself? Because of Traditiones Custodes? Although many of these factors come together with varying degrees of influence, it would be a waste of time to further stir the pot. I rather want to add a factor to the mix to distract everyone for a second. This factor is precisely Ratzinger’s point about secularism, or, rather, worldliness. The Church as a whole has lost its capacity to breathe; institutionally, charismatically, evangelistically, and supernaturally. We are witnessing the process of de-secularization, and it’s happening “contrary to the will of the Church.”
This last point, of the process being “contrary to the will of the Church,” is crucial, it seems to me, to understanding Fiducia Supplicans, especially in light of the Pope's desire for the bishops of Germany not to repeat Luther's mistake. But are these concerns remedied by Fiducia Supplicans? My intention is not to answer this question since I am not the Magisterium. But what I can do is do my best to contribute to this precarious situation of a hemorrhaging Church infected by secularism by pointing to the insights of wise Catholic theologians that have preceeded us—especially Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. I will do my best to do just that in part 2, which I hope will continue to shed light on Fiducia Supplicans, and what it means for the Catholic Church going forward.
 Joseph Ratzinger, The New Pagans and the Church (https://www.hprweb.com/2017/01/the-new-pagans-and-the-church/).
 Joseph Ratzinger, The New Pagans and the Church.
 Joseph Ratzinger, The New Pagans and the Church.
Dom Dalmasso is a 2023 graduate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and philosophy. He was a Benedictine monk from early 2011 to late 2012 at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and was an active-duty United States Marine from August 2014 to August 2018. He runs the YouTube Show / Podcast The Logos Project, and is the editor-in-chief of The Ecclesia Blog. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles.