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Cardinal Zen: Fiducia Supplicans ‘creates confusion’; suggests Fernández should resign

Cardinal Joseph Zen preaches a sermon during a Mass at the Holy Cross Church on May 24, 2022, in Hong Kong, China. / Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2024 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said Pope Francis’ recent declaration allowing the blessing of same-sex couples under certain conditions “creates confusion” and suggested that its author, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, should resign or be dismissed. 

In a statement published Jan. 23 on his blog, Zen said the declaration Fiducia Supplicans contains numerous passages in need of clarification and “leaves many questions unanswered,” according to an unofficial translation.

The 91-year-old Hong Kong cardinal emeritus highlighted in particular how the declaration appeared to him to condone sexual behavior in same-sex relationships by implying such a relationship has an “intrinsic goodness” and can “mature” and “grow.” 

Noting how the declaration appears to be similar to Pope Francis’ response to one of five “dubia” that the cardinal and four other cardinals sent last summer in which they sought clarification on same-sex blessings, Zen said Fiducia Supplicans (“Supplicating Trust”) makes the claim that “same-sex sexual love is ‘similar’ to marital love!”

“This is an absolute subjective error,” he said. “According to objective truth, that behavior is a grave sin and can never be good.”

The cardinal asked that if Fernández, as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, “is committing a heresy by claiming a serious sin as ‘good,’ then shouldn’t the prefect resign or be dismissed?”

Zen was referring to paragraph 31 of the document, which refers to those in same-sex relationships who, although they “do not claim legitimization of their own status,” nevertheless “beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.” 

“These forms of blessing,” the paragraph continues, “express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit — what classical theology calls ‘actual grace’ — so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.”

Widespread criticism

Zen’s statement adds another prominent voice to the widespread criticism that Fiducia Supplicans has received from prelates and episcopal conferences since its surprise release on Dec. 18.

In his statement, Zen acknowledged that the document stresses no blessing should be misunderstood, and the Church does not approve of the “sexual union” of a same-sex couple or of a man and a woman living in an irregular union not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.

But at the same time, he said it “goes on to say that in certain circumstances, out of pastoral love, blessings may be given to same-sex couples and to other men and women living in irregular relationships.”

That “leaves many questions unanswered,” the Hong Kong cardinal said, while at the same time the document explicitly precludes the possibility of further discussion of it. 

Turning to what he saw as another point of confusion, he said that in a subsequent Jan. 4 clarification, Fernández strongly denied that the declaration was “contrary to ecclesiastical reasoning” but “on the other hand, recognizes that bishops and bishops’ conferences have reason to have certain doubts about it” and will need “a longer period of time to study it.” 

Zen said that is “tantamount” to saying that Fiducia Supplicans “is not valid for the time being.”

Other problems

The cardinal then set about discussing what he sees as other serious specific problems with the declaration. 

He noted that the document says couples who ask for a blessing “may” also ask for God’s grace to conform fully to his will, but he also observed that the declaration states the priest is not supposed to examine them to see if they have such an intention. “How can a priest bless him or her if they are not sure they have such an intention, or if there is reason to suspect they do not have such an intention at all?” Zen asked.

On another point, he recalled that Scripture says pastors are to “protect the sheep, heal the wounded, and lead back the lost” but added that the declaration appears to say that individuals could obtain a blessing as a “couple” and leave as a “couple” after the blessing. “Doesn’t that mean that they can, at least for the time being, continue to live in the ‘wrong,’ i.e. sinful way?” he asked.

Zen noted that the declaration frequently stresses the need to avoid confusion, but the blessings encouraged by the declaration “do in fact create confusion.”

He further mentioned how secular media “intentionally” adds to the confusion and wondered why Church figures such as Jesuit Father James Martin, homosexual rights advocate Sister of Loretto Jeannine Gramick, and the German bishops are allowed to “create confusion” or fail to follow “some of the rules” in the declaration. “Is it consistent with pastoral principles to create confusion on this important issue?” he said.

The cardinal closed by saying that the matter of blessing same-sex couples and others in unions that contradict Church teaching should be freely discussed at the upcoming synodal assembly in October in order to reach conclusions on the issue. Fiducia Supplicans is a “preemptive” declaration, the cardinal said, which showed “grave contempt for the office of the bishops — the successors of the apostles, the brothers of the pope!”

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.

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