The head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has dug in his heels in the face of growing opposition to his controversial decision to allow the blessing of gay couples.
Argentinian Cardinal Víctor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández, a personal friend of Pope Francis and the new chief of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), said Thursday the new document does not change traditional Church teaching on homosexuality, but only on the nature of blessings.
The Vatican declaration titled Fiducia Supplicans was welcomed with joy by the LGBT lobby, which embraced the new teaching as a “huge step forward” and “an early Christmas gift” for LGBT Catholics.
Cardinal Fernández, known in ecclesial circles as a second-tier theologian prior to his surprising elevation to his current Vatican post, has been widely criticized for the confused, rambling text that seemed intended as a justification for blessing gay couples.
The declaration reversed a 2021 document by the same Vatican office, which declared the Church has no authority to bless gay couples since God Himself “does not and cannot bless sin.”
Since the release of the text, numerous bishops have voiced their consternation over the change and several bishops’ conferences have refused to apply the new teaching in their regions.
In Thursday’s statement, Cardinal Fernández said that what is expressed by these Episcopal Conferences “cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition,” while warning that bishops must avoid engaging in “a total or definitive denial of this path that is proposed to priests.”
“The real novelty of this Declaration,” Fernández insists, “is not the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations. It is the invitation to distinguish between two different forms of blessings: ‘liturgical or ritualized’ and ‘spontaneous or pastoral,’” which a number of theologians have described as a distinction without a difference.
One of the sharpest and most thorough critiques of the Vatican text came from German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who previously held the very position occupied now by Cardinal Fernández.
Müller pointed out that no biblical texts or previous magisterial documents support the conclusions of Fiducia Supplicans, which constitutes “not a development but a doctrinal leap.”
While the Church can add new sacramentals to existing ones, “she cannot change their meaning in such a way as to trivialize sin, especially in an ideologically charged cultural situation that also misleads the faithful,” Müller wrote.
It seems that the imaginative pastoral blessing was “created ad hoc to bless situations that are contrary to the law or spirit of the gospel,” he added.
“Notice that not only sinful persons are blessed here, but that by blessing the couple, it is the sinful relationship itself that is blessed,” he noted, which no priest can licitly do.
“Therefore, if this blessing were given, its only effect would be to confuse the people who receive it or who attend it,” he cautioned. “They would think that God has blessed what He cannot bless.”
Moreover, blessing a reality that is contrary to creation “is not only impossible, it is blasphemy,” he stressed.
In response, Cardinal Fernández said Thursday that “there is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally from this Declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous.”