Fiducia supplians, an opinion

The salvation of souls must always be the supreme law in the Church

Just one day after turning 87, Francisco made the headlines of the main media outlets worldwide. The headlines joyfully read more or less the following: “Pope authorizes blessings for gay couples.” And, for once, they were right. Normally the headlines of the secular media tend to be very tendentious, sensational, and scandalous, especially when they deal with ecclesial matters. But, this time, they were right. A triumph of the “gay lobby”? Is the existence of a “gay lobby” confirmed within the Vatican and at a very high level? I would say, no. Rather, it is a triumph of mercy, a spear in favor of pastoral prudence, which takes precedence over the rigidity of law. Of a reality that expresses how the Church is a living reality, that resists being constricted and gives channel to the pastoral needs of the “People of God.”

But, let’s go in parts. As in everything, it is necessary to qualify, so as not to simplify a complex reality, or see it only superficially, because, more so in this case, it is a very profound change. What the Declaration Fiducia Supplicans states is very simple. It was there, and we didn’t realize it. He simply limits himself to making two distinctions, one of them novel. He first clearly distinguishes between “liturgy” and “popular piety.” In that sense, sacraments are one thing, and blessings – traditionally considered “sacramental” – are another. Secondly – and this is what is new, which is why the document acquires the category of “Declaration” – it establishes two levels within the blessings. We could say, simplifying, that these are the blessings typical of the ritual of blessings and regulated by the universal Church, the episcopal conferences or the dioceses, on the one hand (that is, the usual blessings) and, on the other, those that we could call “spontaneous blessings”, at a lower level. At the same time, with a solid scriptural support, the document illustrates how blessings can be, in turn, “descending” (from God to us) or “ascending” (from us to God).

The fact is that, in this new section of blessings, blessings for people in an irregular situation fit. Not only same-sex couples, but also heterosexual couples who are not married religiously, but only civilly or in a free union. In a broader sense, to any kind of sinner – we all are. The only requirement is to avoid any equation with canonical marriage, that is, creating confusion about the nature of the sacrament. In this area, the text reaffirms the invariable doctrine of the Church in this regard: it occurs only between a woman and a man, and must be open to life, with the intention of remaining united until death.

The blessings of couples of the same sex or in an irregular situation would fall within the scope of popular piety, and would be left to the pastoral prudence of the minister. In this sense, how many times is the priest “forced” to bless drunks! (for some strange reason they are attracted to them, at least in Mexico). But, sometimes, not only to drunks, but also to transvestites or prostitutes. Have we already forgotten that from the Gospel: “the publicans and the prostitutes will precede them into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 21, 31)? And, in general, to all sinners, sadly even drug traffickers. Again, we are all sinners. The text clearly states, quoting Francis: “when we ask for a blessing we are expressing a request for help from God, a prayer to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better.”

Personally, I find the following words of Francisco cited by the document particularly encouraging:

“Decisions that, in certain circumstances, may form part of pastoral prudence, should not necessarily become a norm. That is to say, it is not convenient for a Diocese, an Episcopal Conference or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially enable procedures or rites for all types of matters […] Canon Law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should the Episcopal Conferences with their varied documents and protocols, because the life of the Church runs through many channels in addition to the normative ones.”

Because? Because they free us from the straitjacket that canon law sometimes puts us in. And they corroborate those other words, so often forgotten from Scripture: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3, 6). The rigidity of the norm sometimes harms people, that happens in all law, but particularly in ecclesiastical law. That is why Francis takes a historic step by giving pastoral prominence to the prudence of the minister and, through him, to the action of the Holy Spirit (“The Spirit blows where he wants…” John 3, 8), on the codified norm.

That is why this document seems historic to me, because more than a “victory of the gay lobby”, it seems to me a victory of the Spirit over the norm. A triumph of pastoral over the Code. In reality, social submission to the code is recent -Napoleon promulgated it in 1804-, in the Church it is more recent (1917). In any case, it is an implementation of the last lines of the last canon of the Code (1752): “the salvation of souls must always be the supreme law in the Church.” Francis is simply being consistent with this maxim, with which the preceding 1751 canons sometimes do not agree in practice.