Five cardinals submit a formal set of questions, or dubia, to Pope Francis to express their concerns and seek clarification on points of doctrine and discipline ahead of the Oct. 4 opening of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican.
One of the questions pertains to same-sex blessings. The cardinals — German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, Hong Kong Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah — point to the Church’s teaching based on divine revelation and Scripture that “God created man in his own image, male and female he created them and blessed them, that they might be fruitful” (Gn 1:27–28), and St. Paul’s teaching that to deny sexual difference is the consequence of the denial of the Creator (Rom 1:24–32). They then ask the pope if the Church can deviate from such teaching and accept “as a ‘possible good’ objectively sinful situations, such as same-sex unions, without betraying revealed doctrine?”
July 11, 2023: Pope Francis responds to the dubia
Pope Francis addresses the cardinals’ questions the day after the dubia is sent. Regarding same-sex blessings, he writes that the Church “avoids any rite or sacramental that may contradict” its conviction in marriage as “an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation.”
“However,” the pope continues, “in dealing with people, we must not lose pastoral charity,” explaining that “pastoral prudence must discern properly if there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken conception of marriage.” Citing his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the pope adds that such blessings “do not necessarily have to become a norm.”
Aug. 21, 2023: The cardinals submit a revised dubia
The same cardinals send a revised dubia to Pope Francis, this time requesting “yes” and “no” answers to their questions. They later explain that they took this step because the pope’s responses “have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them.”
Oct. 2, 2023: The dubia and Pope Francis’ response are made public
The cardinals release their dubia to the news media, along with an accompanying statement to the faithful, but they do not publicly share the response they received from Pope Francis. Soon after, the Vatican releases the full text of the pope’s replies.
The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, issues the declaration Fiducia Supplicans on Dec. 18, which authorizes nonliturgical blessings of “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.”
On the same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a statement that clarifies that the declaration does not change the Church’s teaching on marriage as between a man and a woman only. The Church’s unchanging doctrines related to marriage are affirmed in the Vatican declaration.
Several dioceses reaffirm the Church’s doctrines on marriage. Some members of the Church hierarchy express gratitude for the declaration while others, such as bishops in Kazakhstan, admonish Pope Francis for approving the declaration.