The promulgation of the Declaration of the Doctrine for the Faith Fiducia supplicans on Dec. 18, 2023 and the reactions that followed it offer us a possible key to the next conclave.
The author of the Declaration is Pope Francis’ close collaborator and ghost writer, Victor Manuel Fernández, who was appointed prefect of the new Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 1st, 2023 and created cardinal the following September 30th. The document is signed ex audientia by Pope Francis, in a manner that makes it unappealable. Normally the document should be an expression of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium, but it is not, precisely because by departing from Church teaching it loses all character of “magisteriality.”
Fiducia supplicans, however, constitutes a true “Bergoglian manifesto” because of a specific characteristic, which was already the case with modernism: it affirms fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, while with an unscrupulous intellectual acrobatics it overturns it. In particular, Fiducia supplicans denies that a homosexual relationship can ever be equated with marriage, but by authorizing the possibility of blessing that relationship, it approves it, contradicting on this point the Magisterium, which has always condemned sin against nature. He affirms, in a reassuring tone, that blessing is extra-liturgical, but since one can bless (bene dicere) only what is in itself good, he thereby admits the intrinsic goodness of the homosexual relationship. He denies blessing the homosexual relationship as such, but since what is blessed is not a single person but the purported “couple,” who are not asked to end the illicit relationship, he blesses the bond that sinfully unites the two “partners.”
How can one be surprised that Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called this blessing a sacrilegious and blasphemous act?
Cardinal Müller’s pronouncement was strong and articulate, but it is not the only one that has appeared in recent weeks. The new fact, which offers us a key to interpreting the upcoming Conclave, is the descent into the field of bishops and cardinals who had never before publicly expressed perplexity or criticism of Pope Francis. Until now, in fact, the most significant reactions to the drift of the Bergoglian pontificate had been the Supplica filiale signed in 2015 by hundreds of thousands of signatories worldwide, the Correctio filialis presented in 2017 by a group of Catholic theologians and intellectuals, and the Dubia presented by a number of eminent cardinals, including Cardinals Raymond Leo Burke and Walter Brandmüller in 2016 and 2023.
This time, it is different. One after another, the dissonant voices are those of the bishops of Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda, Angola, and São Tomé, virtually all African bishops, while the Pan-African Bishops’ Conference issued a call for concerted action, signed by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, Metropolitan Archbishop of Kinshasa, who received the cardinalatial purple on Oct. 5, 2019, from Pope Francis.
These critical voices were joined by those of Polish bishops, bishops of the two rites, — Latin and Greek Catholic — of Ukraine, the Archdiocese of Astana in Kazakhstan, and many other individual dioceses scattered around the world, such as that of Montevideo. Cardinal Daniel Fernando Sturla, archbishop of Montevideo, who was also created a cardinal by Pope Francis on Feb. 14, 2015, and, like Cardinal Ambongo, is one of the electors in the upcoming Conclave.
It may be said that this is a minority, and indeed it is. On the other hand, an even smaller minority are the bishops who have explicitly adhered to the Declaration of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. But it is interesting to note that the strongest criticism of Fiducia supplicans has come from precisely those “peripheries” that Pope Francis has so often invoked as the bearers of authentic religious and human values, while the document’s philosophy has been endorsed by some bishops’ conferences, such as those of Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, which represent the more worldly episcopates that are more distant from the existential problems of the “peripheries.”
The vast majority of bishops and cardinals either did not express themselves at all or, when they did, suggested interpreting Fiducia supplicans on a line of consistency, not discontinuity, with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and with the previous Responsum of March 15, 2021 of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the possibility of blessing same-sex unions. An impassable position, that of these cardinals and bishops, both doctrinally and pastorally. The reasons for the ambiguity are probably to be found in the fear of not coming into open conflict with Pope Francis and the media powers that support him.
However, this magmatic and confused center is not “Bergoglian” and, in its orientation, constitutes the oscillating “Third Party” between the two minorities that will face each other in the upcoming conclave: on the one hand the pole faithful to Church teaching, on the other the pole faithful to the “new paradigm.” The clash will take place in a “sede vacante” situation, when Pope Francis will have already left the scene, the media will be silent, and each voter will be alone before God and his own conscience. Enough to suggest that the next conclave will be contentious, not short and perhaps not without twists and turns.