Nine heroic French Bishops

Fiducia Supplicans: the complete statement from the Bishops of the Western dioceses

Here is the full statement from the Bishops of the Western dioceses, which Riposte catholique reported. Clearly, the bishops take a position in favor of individual blessing. The phrase is even underlined in bold, in the declaration: “this is why it is appropriate to bless spontaneously, individually, each of the two people forming a couple”. (You can also download the bishops' position statement in PDF format).

To the Priests and Deacons of the Dioceses

from Quimper, Rennes, Saint-Brieuc, Vannes, Angers, Laval, Le Mans, Luçon, Nantes

Dear Brother Priests and Deacons,

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published the Fiducia supplicans Declaration of December 18, 2023 “on the pastoral significance of blessings”. Let us not get caught up in the whirlwind of the varied reactions it provokes. This Declaration calls for a careful reading of the entire text on our part in order to receive “with an open heart” (n. 27) the teaching of Pope Francis on which it is based.

Given our societal context, we would like to draw your attention to four pastoral attitudes to which the Declaration invites us:

1 – “Pastoral charity”

If the Second Vatican Council taught that the Church is “universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen gentium, n. 48), the Declaration recalls this (n. 20) and specifies that the Church is “the sacrament of love infinity of God” (n. 43). This expression is the title of the last part of the Declaration. Paul VI began his first encyclical – Ecclesiam suam, the 60th anniversary of which we will celebrate – with: “The Church of Christ Jesus was desired by its Founder as a loving mother of all men and dispenser of salvation. "

The Declaration thus leads us to this great consideration of the infinite love of God, of which the Church is the sacrament in the history of men. She invites us not to “lose the pastoral charity which must pass through all our decisions and our attitudes” (n. 13). Last October 15, Pope Francis recalled the message of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, who received a strong understanding of the central role of charity: “I understood that Love alone made the members of the Church act. Church, that if Love were to die out, the Apostles would no longer announce the Gospel." (It’s confidence, n. 39)

Saint Paul teaches us that this charity is a gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). It is constantly to be demanded in prayer. It is patient and finds joy in the “small step [accomplished] in the midst of great human limitations” (n. 43). It translates into welcoming without judgment and caring listening without preconceptions. It leads us to bring consolation and appeasement through a word of truth spoken with humility and gentleness, in a way adapted to the situation and the person's path. It continues in hope through prayer for this person welcomed and listened to.

2 – “The enduring Catholic doctrine of marriage”

The Declaration makes an unambiguous discernment: “The Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when it can, in a certain way, offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union which presents itself as a marriage or extramarital sexual practice." (n. 11) This clarifies the debates within certain local Churches, particularly European or American, which pit those who practice liturgical blessings of same-sex couples against those who forbid it. Indeed, for the liturgical blessing to be given, “it must be ensured that things, places or events are not contrary to the law or the spirit of the Gospel” (n . 10).

Thus, “rites and prayers which could create confusion between what constitutes marriage […] and what contradicts it are inadmissible” (n. 4). The Declaration provides guidance so that confusion is avoided at all costs and the understanding of marriage, which is only between a man and a woman according to God's design, is preserved. In his response to the Dubia presented by five Cardinals on July 10, 2023, Pope Francis recalls that “the Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to generation of children. She only calls this one union “marriage”. This is why the Church avoids any form of rite or sacramental which could contradict this conviction and give the impression that we recognize as marriage what is not one.

More than in the past, in our secularized society which has lost understanding of the admirable significance of sexual difference, marriage is seen as a response to God's call. It is a vocation. Let us be happy to place ourselves with charity at the service of couples who are preparing for marriage or who are married. Let us carefully accompany those who struggle, those who forget or no longer know how to take care of their love. It is beautiful to allow marital and parental love to be strengthened and purified thanks to the living light of the Gospel, with the grace and blessing of Christ!

3 – “Enrich the meaning of blessings”

The Declaration develops an understanding of blessings (part 2). After referring to Holy Scripture, she invites us to consider them “from the point of view of popular pastoral care”: to liturgical blessings is then added the “spontaneous blessing” through which “the proximity of the 'Church with every situation where we seek God's help' (n. 38). This blessing, without liturgical vestment, is a “simple gesture” “of great value”, which arises “from the freedom and spontaneity” (n. 36) of the ordained minister and which cannot be codified (n. 37).

“He who asks for a blessing shows that he needs the saving presence of God in his history, and he who asks for a blessing from the Church recognizes the Church as the sacrament of salvation that God offers." (n. 20) “People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing demonstrate […] their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their heart which does not rely solely on their own strength, their need for God and their desire to escape the narrowness of this world closed in on itself. " (n. 21)

In these statements we recognize many who ask us for God's blessing. Doesn’t this obviously tie in with our pastoral care during pilgrimages, in sanctuaries and in so many other situations?

Although the Declaration distinguishes liturgical blessings from those which are given outside the liturgical framework and which can be practiced with "greater spontaneity and freedom", it must be emphasized that the ordained minister gives God's blessing in the name of Christ. The Declaration refers to the Risen One who experiences his Ascension by blessing (cf. Lk 24:50-51) (n. 18). This finale of the Gospel according to Saint Luke has a high significance for the faith. The resurrected Christ is our new and eternal High Priest. Filled with extreme charity (cf. Jn 13:1), he acts in and through his Church, always and unceasingly blessing. Ordained ministers, we are the mediators of his holy blessing. The Church is in a way a sacrament of eternal blessing with which Christ, out of love, blesses human beings throughout their lives with their joys and their misfortunes.

Let us listen to Benedict XVI conclude his Jesus of Nazareth: “Jesus leaves blessing. In blessing he departs and in blessing he remains. His hands remain extended over this world. The blessing hands of Christ are like a roof that protects us. But they are at the same time a gesture of opening which tears the world apart so that the sky penetrates into it and can become a presence there. In the gesture of the hands that bless the lasting relationship of Jesus with his disciples, with the world, is expressed. […] In faith, we know that Jesus, in blessing, holds his hands extended over us. This is the permanent reason for Christian joy."

The Declaration gives us the opportunity to meditate on the blessing that comes down from heaven and of which we are ministers, as well as on the blessing that ascends to God through praise for his visible or invisible benefits. Are we ordained ministers who lead the faithful to bless God, to praise Him for His mercy? Are we offering God’s blessing enough? Are we aware that we have the beautiful mission of blessing? Let us remember when opportunities arise for us to lead in praise or offer God’s blessing. Whether with a sick person, a grieving family, a group of young people, a family, a meeting of the faithful… Let us accompany our blessing with a spontaneous prayer which presents to God the people who are going to be blessed. For us, blessing is an act of our charity.

“In the world in which we live” (n. 33) and which is inhabited by indifference to God, it is important to reinforce the “sense of God”. Blessing is a significant means because it “offers people a way to increase their trust in God” (n. 33).

4 – “Blessing same-sex couples”?

The 3rd part of the Declaration begins by affirming that “within the horizon thus outlined, it is possible to bless couples in an irregular situation and couples of the same sex” (n. 31). In fact, the Declaration achieves its purpose: “To consider various questions, formal and informal, on the possibility of blessing same-sex couples." (n. 2) While it now deals with its subject, the Declaration does not explain the reasoning which moves it from “persons” to “couples”, a term absent from the first 2 parts. However, the word “couple” has a particular meaning which deserves explanation [1].

However, while positing the “possibility” – which is therefore not an obligation – of blessing “same-sex couples”, the Declaration carefully outlines its contours. In fact, it invites us to discern.

First of all, the blessing is not adequate to the desire of those who “claim the legitimacy of their own status” (n. 31) or who seek “a form of moral legitimacy for [their] union” (n. 11 ). On the contrary, it is intended for people who “ask that everything that is true, good, humanly valid in their lives and in their relationships be invested, healed and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit” (n. 31). It can in turn arouse praise: “No one can be excluded from this thanksgiving and everyone, even if they live in situations that are not in conformity with the Creator's plan, has positive elements for which they can praise the Lord." (n. 28) Saint Paul teaches us: “Finally, my brothers, whatever is true and noble, whatever is just and pure, whatever is worthy of being loved and honored, whatever is is called virtue and which deserves praise, all this, take it into account." (Phi 4.8)

Blessings are a response to the desire of “all those who approach God with a humble heart, accompanying them with those spiritual aids which enable all to understand and fully realize the will of God in their lives” (n. 32) Indeed, “to seek a blessing in the Church is to admit that the life of the Church springs from the bosom of God's mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better, to respond to the will of the Lord " (n. 20). Thus, “in the short prayer which may precede this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask […] for the light and strength of God to be able to fully accomplish his will” (n. 38).

The Declaration thus indicates criteria for discernment: humility and the desire to accomplish the will of God, that is to say, to correspond to his plan of wisdom. This is repeated with regard to liturgical blessings: “it is necessary that what is blessed can correspond to the plans of God inscribed in Creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. " (n. 11) And regarding “spontaneous” blessings: “the ordained minister associates himself with the prayers of people who, although living a union which cannot in any way be compared to marriage, desire to entrust themselves to the Lord and to his mercy, invoke his help and be guided towards a greater understanding of his plan of love and truth. " (n. 30)

In our society where marriage has been trivialized by becoming a notion of civil law which ignores the founding specificity of sexual difference, we have the mission to affirm in a prophetic way, “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt 3:16) , the great beauty of the design of God who created the human being, man and woman, and which Christ recalled. In this context, it is therefore right, as the Declaration emphasizes, not to contribute to creating “confusion” (n. 4, 5, 30, 31, 39) or “scandal” (n. 30, 39). ). This is why it is appropriate to bless spontaneously, individually, each of the two people forming a couple, whatever their sexual orientation, who ask God's blessing with humility and with the desire to conform more and more to His holy will.

Conclusion: listening to the Holy Spirit.

How beautiful it is to be a minister in the name of Christ and his charity of the blessings of God for his beloved children! May each of them, blessed by the Church, be able to “open their lives to God, ask for his help to live better, and also invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel are lived with greater fidelity” (n. 40). “The grace of God indeed acts in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but humbly recognize themselves as sinners like everyone else. It is capable of directing everything according to the mysterious and unpredictable plans of God. " (n. 32)

Bishops, priests and deacons, let us dare to ask for God's blessing for ourselves in order to better hear the calls of the Spirit in our lives. As we pray and bless, let us help each person discern the calls of the Spirit in their own story.

All his calls converge on the great call to holiness: “The will of God is that you live in holiness" (1 Th 4,3) The Beatitudes of the Gospel express this holiness. This cannot be achieved in a life which is deliberately outside of God's plan. Rather, it is by freely consenting and moving forward with trust in God and his grace on the difficult path of conversion that joy blossoms (cf. Jn 16:22). The Church, “like a loving mother”, is its servant for all.

We end with this text from Pope Francis: “I would like the Virgin Mary to crown these reflections, because she lived the beatitudes of Jesus like no other. […] She is the saint among the saints, the most blessed, the one who shows us the path to holiness and who accompanies us. She does not accept that we stay on the ground and sometimes she carries us in her arms without judging us. Speaking with her consoles us, liberates us and sanctifies us. The Mother does not need many words, she does not need us to make too much effort to explain to her what is happening to us. Just whisper over and over: “Hail Mary…”. " (Gaudete et exsultate, n. 176)

January 1, 2024, Solemnity of Saint Mary, Mother of God

✠ Pierre d’Ornellas, Archbishop of Rennes

✠ Raymond Centène, Bishop of Vannes

✠ Emmanuel Delmas, Bishop of Angers

✠ Laurent Dognin, Bishop of Quimper

✠ François Jacolin, Bishop of Luçon

✠ Denis Moutel, Bishop of Saint-Brieuc

✠ Laurent Percerou, Bishop of Nantes

✠ Jean-Pierre Vuillemin, Bishop of Le Mans

✠ Jean Bondu, Auxiliary Bishop of Rennes

Frédéric Foucher, Diocesan Administrator of Laval

[1] See for example Francis, Exhortation Amoris laetitia, n. 10-12; François de Muizon, Man and woman, the founding otherness, Cerf, 2008.