The negative responses to the Declaration Fiducia Supplicans keep coming, and they’re all over the map. And to be honest, it’s difficult to take some of them seriously.
Chris Altieri of Catholic World Report didn’t need a full week to conclude that the document had “failed spectacularly” and that “Pope Francis has put himself in an impossible situation.” He also suggested that the DDF prefect, Cardinal Victor Fernández, looks “blindsided and flummoxed, temporizing and at some pains—not to say ‘desperate’—to make it look like he has a handle on things.”
Perhaps Altieri needs to be reminded of the reception of Humanae Vitae — or even the response in Germany to the 2021 Responsum on same-sex blessings, which prompted unprecedented numbers to disaffiliate from the Church — before asserting that the public reactions to magisterial documents are markers of its “failure.”
Taking things a step further, the radical traditionalist author and speaker Peter Kwasniewski wrote a Facebook post in his typically melodramatic and flamboyant style that Fiducia Supplicans “reeks of sulfur and sophistry. Those who do not spew it forth as the satanic poison it is will be found guilty of the sodomy it will encourage (cf. Rom 1:32).” Many traditionalist responses strike a similar tone.
A particularly bizarre and seemingly heretical and/or schismatic response to the document was provided by the former executive director of the US bishops’ secretariat on doctrine, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, who decided, “Despite its claims to the contrary,” that Fiducia Supplicans “blatantly contradicts the perennial magisterial teaching of the Church concerning irregular marriages and the sexual activity of same-sex couples.” That’s right — even though the document says things like “the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice,” Weinandy intuits that it blatantly contradicts the Magisterium.
As a result of this “blatant” violation of Catholic tradition, Weinandy posits “a thesis that Newman did not consider,” suggesting that any teaching from the pope or bishops “that overtly and deliberately contradicts the perennial teaching of previous councils and pontiffs is not magisterial teaching, precisely because it does not accord with past magisterial doctrinal teaching.” Weinandy seems to think Fiducia Supplicans is one such teaching. Not only does he embrace a common traditionalist heresy regarding how the Magisterium works, but his views on Fiducia Supplicans put him at odds with many well-known conservative US prelates such as Bishops Andrew Cozzens, Robert Barron, and David Konderla.
A problem with Weinandy’s thesis is that it doesn’t address who decides which teachings are “overtly and deliberately” contrary to “perennial teaching.” Are we to believe Barron, Cozzens, and Konderla that Fiducia Supplicans is orthodox? Or should we trust the judgement of Fr. Weinandy, a man whose discernment has proven to be unreliable in the past. For example, after the suburban Maryland community in which he lived for 19 years was exposed as a cult, he admitted to the Washington Post, “In some ways, I feel I’ve been had.”
I am not using hyperbole when I suggest that Fr. Weinandy’s view on the Magisterium is potentially heretical. It goes against the teachings of many popes and councils about papal primacy, going back centuries. Pope Leo XIII appears to reject Weinandy’s theory explicitly in his 1890 encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, which taught,
Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.
Weinandy’s thesis is also potentially schismatic because it seems to reject what the Vatican I dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus taught regarding the pope’s role in avoiding schism:
This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.
Weinandy’s claims are especially baffling because (as YouTuber Michael Lofton pointed out) in the middle of his article he seems to express agreement with the stated position of Cardinal Fernández and those who defend the orthodoxy of Fiducia Supplicans, writing, “While couples in irregular marriages and same-sex couples can be blessed, what cannot be blessed, and so validated, is the sin in which they are engaged.”
So what’s Fr. Weinandy’s concern? That there is some unstated invisible heresy lurking behind the document’s orthodox words? That’s not what the other critics of Fiducia Supplicans are claiming. On social media, the dominant talking point for critics of Fiducia Supplicans is that one cannot bless a couple without blessing their “union.” His only objection seems to be that the document doesn’t mean what it says. Oddly, Weinandy has decided that the magisterial document over which he is going to announce his decision to embrace a Lefebvrist or Cardinal Burkish view of papal authority is a document with which he seems to fundamentally agree.
All over the internet, countless papal critics are acting as if they can’t understand the difference between a couple and a union. As one writer put it in Crisis Magazine, “A union is a couple, a couple is a pair, a pair is a partnership, a partnership is a coupling, and a coupling is a union.” Popular Catholic chastity speaker Jason Evert echoes this notion in a YouTube video, in which he says, “What’s the one word that I’ve got a problem with, and the bishops are having problems with? Well the word is this: the word is ‘couple.’”
Davide Pagliarani, the current leader of the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) also asserts that one cannot bless a couple without also blessing their union, writing in a statement, “When we bless a couple, we do not bless isolated individuals: we necessarily bless the relationship that unites them.”
In response to traditionalist Catholics’ sudden inability to grasp the difference between “union” and “couple” (a case of mass lexical amnesia unlike anything we’ve seen since the same group spontaneously forgot the definition of “inadmissible”), the DDF prefect has sought to publicly clarify Fiducia Supplicans, but he’s also voiced his impression that critics of the document are being disingenuous about their “confusion” about the document.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC, Cardinal Fernández was asked about the claim that some Catholics were cheering it as a first step towards doctrinally legitimizing divorce and remarriage or same-sex marriage. Fernández responded, “This perception is totally incorrect, and those who say so either have not read the text or have ‘mala leche,’” which translates to “bad milk” in English. He reiterated, “The statement says clearly and ad nauseam that these are non-ritualized blessings, so that they are not interpreted as a marriage.”
Perhaps ideology is so deeply embedded in papal critics’ minds at this point in the papacy that they’re reduced to repeating talking points and pretending they can’t comprehend the meanings of words. But it’s tiresome and tragic. My prayer is that some of its critics will spit out the spoiled milk and read Fiducia Supplicans carefully, seriously, and with an open heart.