The Good News About Fiducia Supplicans

Fiducia Supplicans does, as Cardinal Fernández and Pope Francis hoped it would, provide clarity; it just isn’t the clarity they wanted.

Well, the title alone is enough to make you read the article. 

Now that the dust has surged on Fiducia Supplicans, we should look at the good news about it. It does, as Cardinal Fernández and Pope Francis hoped it would, provide clarity; it just isn’t the clarity they wanted. 

It doesn’t clarify what the Vatican previously said on the matter. (You don’t need to clarify “No.”) But it has clarified what many cardinals, bishops, and priests believe about many things in the Church—and even about the Church herself. 

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You see, both sides of the fence agree about what it says. Whether you are Cardinal Müller or Fr. Martin, whether you’re the bishops in Germany or the bishops in Africa, you see the document as granting some form of Church approval of those living in “irregular situations,” and by “irregular situations” it means what had been called sinful. It has become the latest and most telling Rorschach test of the Catholic Faith. So, Fr. Joe, what will you do when Ted and Steve come to you, hand in hand, after Mass asking for your blessing? We shall now know where each priest stands on this and, by extension, many other issues.  

For that reason, Fiducia Supplicans is problematic for those trying to keep this papacy in continuity with the previous two (or two hundred). As with Amoris Laetitia (and other papal pronouncements), there seems a clear break in what the Church has previously taught. The subsequent clarification has only clarified the rupture. 

Fiducia Supplicans also forces us to clarify—or, better yet, realize—what we mean by “liturgical.” Our lives are supposed to revolve around and flow from the liturgy. If that is true, if we are created by God and subject to Him, can there be any separation between our acts in His name and our private lives? Is what we do liturgically a manifestation of what we, as a Church, believe, or can it be something “personal” for each individual to interpret as he or she will? Can there be for a Catholic, much less a Catholic priest, anything such as a “private” liturgical act? Can there be a wall between what we do at Mass or weddings or funerals, or even in the wearing of a medal or scapular, and what we do with friends, in the office—or in the bedroom? 

I see Fiducia Supplicans as a sort of Obergefell v. Hodges in the Church. There really was no need to allow homosexual couples to have the same legal status as a married couple. Any discrepancy in property or monetary distribution could have been easily remedied by slight changes in statutes and no one would have cared. The real purpose of Obergefell was to force others to call something what those others believe it is not. Fiducia Supplicans now makes this not a question of civil law but of Faith. And in matters of Faith, there is nowhere to hide.  I see Fiducia Supplicans as a sort of Obergefell v. Hodges in the Church.Tweet This

Fiducia Supplicans will also clarify matters of ecclesiology. Just what is the proper relationship between the pope, the bishops, and priests? In Traditionis Custodes, the pope took away from priests the facility to celebrate Mass in a time-honored rite, a facility granted (if it needed to be granted) and expanded by his two predecessors. In Fiducia Supplicans, he has given priests an unprecedented and dubious facility to bless homosexual relationships. In Traditionis Custodes, he basically told the bishops to “clean up the mess,” while in Fiducia Supplicans he has said to them, “Don’t get involved.” Where is the collegiality? What is the point of all these synods? What is the purpose of a bishop? It is a good thing for a bishop to be forced to consider what is the purpose of his office.  

Another part of the good news is that many bishops have examined their purpose. Large numbers of bishops around the world are taking a forceful and public stand on a moral issue. They are doing so at risk to their ecclesiastical “careers.” They are acting as true shepherds to protect their flock from false ideas. It is sad, very sad, that this had to be in response to a declaration from the pope, but, often, sad situations force us to commit ourselves. 

This will, I hope and expect, make it clear to bishops and religious orders that they need to be very careful about how their clergy are being trained and taught; that there needs to be a “weeding out process” not only in how prospective clergy live but about what they think and what they believe. None of those now making decisions got there by accident or stealth. They often got there by higher-ups either knowingly promoting them because of their beliefs or by culpably remaining silent. In either case, it should be clear that accountability is not an option.  

This should also make it clear to the laity where their tithing should go. We are required to support the Church, but that can be done in many ways. If we are not on board with what a bishop or order is doing (and their response to Fiducia Supplicans would be a good indicator), then there are other seminaries or communities that we can support.  

This latest dictate will clarify matters for the next conclave. Those gathering there will be judging papabile in all of the above aspects; not only in what this pope has done but how he has done it. The final question on the exam in the minds of many, if not most, of the electors about a possible successor may be “What was his response to Fiducia Supplicans?” After ten years, we now have a situation in which a man can leave his wife and enter a homosexual relationship and not only legitimately still receive Communion but have that homosexual relationship blessed. Do they want more of this? 

There is an all too human tendency to think that disagreements are only the result of misunderstandings. “If only I could make you understand what I mean, you would agree.” We forget that disagreements can also be the result of, well, very clear disagreements. I remember arguing about abortion with a friend. “If only I could make her understand that it is a child in the womb,” I thought. She finally shut me down when she said, “You don’t understand. I agree that it is a child, but I still think I have the right to kill it.” What could I say to that? 

There have been very clear disagreements for some time in the Church. These disagreements have not been about policy but about matters of faith and morals. They have been brewing and simmering, but they have been overlooked or passed by because “this is what has always been done.” I will give credit to Pope Francis in that he has been a man who has shown he is not bound by precedent. He knows what he wants and he gets it done. He has made it clear that we must ask ourselves if this is what we want to be done.

After the bombings of London in World War II, the Houses of Parliament had to be reconstructed. Many wanted them done in a semicircular manner symbolizing a range of opinions. Churchill vetoed this, insisting on the previous arrangement which made each member turn either to the right or to the left as he entered. He wanted men to take sides. Fiducia Supplicans may be seen as the (latest) bombing of the Church. We have to rebuild, and we have to take sides. That is a good thing. 


  • Robert B. Greving

    Robert B. Greving teaches Latin and English grammar at a Maryland high school. Mr. Greving served five years in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps following his graduation from the Dickinson School of Law.

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