The report on the first of two concluding assemblies of the Synod of Bishops on synodality had just been published when, to everyone's surprise, the controversial Doctrinal Declaration ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ came out, causing an 'urbi et orbi' stir in the Catholic Church and, emblematically, in Africa. The following reflections do not purport to be an opinion, but merely recalling some 'ingredients' needed to 'cook' such a complex dish as a blessing to same-sex couples.
Louis-Marie Grousset published a provocation in the Croix Belga: “I cannot justify the fact that the Catholic Church continues to bless crops, the combatants’ weapons and the combatants themselves, commercial or pleasure ships, tourist vehicles, the arrival of the seasons, objects of piety, motorbikes, guitars, pilgrims and animals, but finds it so difficult to bless human couples who love each other”.
Words that can be fully shared but that also ask feedback for thoughts. Blessing is saying good, as its origin in the Hebrew baraka indicates. The baraka, this saying good, can only be truly applied to God, the only One good, for the good things he bestows. Then, we invoke him so that we may do good with his good things, for our own good and for the good of others.
To be radically critical, one should change all the wordings of the blessings that are given, even in Africa, to food, chickens, cars and, above all, weapons. The Catholic Church has long stumbled over her inconsistency on war, but has finally clarified its position and today condemns, as Pope Francis often does, even the building of weapons.
Grousset's allusions mainly refer to facts from Western history that do not touch African sensibilities at all, but highlight how historical-cultural connotations affect the contents of faith: the Eurocentric perspective in Grousset's case is very different on these issues from the African one, for example. Do the positive or negative reactions to the 'Fiducia Supplicans' therefore also depend on the different cultural visions of the peoples in which the Church finds itself? Undoubtedly yes and, one might add, inevitably.
The Catholic Church has always considered that the content of its faith - the depositum fidei - finds its source in Sacred Scripture, the foundation and criterion of faith, in the ecclesial tradition or magisterium, the indisputable authority for the Scripture interpretation, and in the sensus fidei of the Christian people, the subject of faith. The magisterium has come to declare the faith in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Assumption into heaven, of which there are only vague vestiges in Scripture and just traces in the magisterium, thanks to their continuous presence in the sensus fidei of the Christian people. In other words, the depositum fidei has the believer as its subject, placing him at the centre of the journey of faith, a journey of salvation, not abstract but offered to concrete persons.
The sensus fidei of the Christian people, however, always has cultural connotations; a human community expresses its faith only through its own culture, as did Jesus and, after him, the apostles and the Churches over the centuries. Culture gives never origin to faith in any religion, but no faith can express itself and live except within a culture.
The Ugandan laws against homosexuality, the Burundian president's call to kill homosexuals, the Kenyan government's rejection of Barak Obama's statements during his visit to Africa show how cultural the attitude in Africa regarding homosexuality is: attached to their identity, African societies reject any homosexuality and its consequences, which, in their logic, are predictable and inadmissible, and show to the Churches the attitude to follow. The churches take it on, yes, out of love for a traditional morality, but primarily out of adherence to the cultural identity shared with their societies.
The statements of Cardinal Ambongo, president of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, are significant in this regard. In a message published on various social networks, he accuses rather violently Western cultures of a new colonialism aimed at dragging Africa into the marasmus of their own resulting from the rejection of the family as the foundation of society, from the denial of procreation as the primary purpose of marriage, and from putting personal satisfaction and self-interest before the good of the community. Sexual intimacy was not central to the purposes of marriage before the arrival of Western culture and the Gospel. Sexual initiation between cousins before marriage, the phenomena of homosexuality in African history often linked to Arab influences, and the break-up of childless couples are reminders of this.
The primary purpose of marriage was, like in the past time in Europe and other parts of the world, the alliance between families for the security and continuity of the clan or tribe through procreation. Homosexual marriage, by its sterile nature, requires, as in fact it does, to provide the children necessary for the marriage purposes through techniques outside of nature and thus outside of African culture, techniques that for the Cardinal are nothing more than the new instruments of colonial domination.
The focal point becomes, insofar, the epistemological principle, which has been and is the source of various conflicts and manipulations, from which cultural anthropology starts: what is not nature is culture. The Thomist notion of natural law perhaps did attribute too much to nature on the culture detriment; since anthropology became part of the human sciences, the drift is instead to attribute too much to culture often with the aim of imposing ideologies subservient to economic interests. One cannot deny the male predominance in Western cultures - which is not always true in other cultures - but one cannot either avoid the impression of ideological manipulation when one claims the right of a ten-year-old child to change sex in favour of a psychological identity different from his physical reality.
Pope Benedict, spoke of relativism, rejecting theological relativism: God exists, He is Unique and therefore true knowledge of Him can only be unique. His tendency was then to assign this true approach to a single culture, the Western-Greek one. The One and absolute God, on the other hand, has known multiple approaches throughout history, even in the Catholic Church, all marked by a certain cultural relativism, and never entirely purified of it, because the sensus fidei is inevitably conditioned by time and space, and by the cultures it feeds on.
Political correctness, for its part, has become completely addicted to relativism, tending to make the single thought the god of its own culture. Unfortunately, cultures can become corrupted with the passage of time: the claim of a linear, ever more noble and elevated cultural evolution has led to racism and ethnocentrism, the sensus fidei has sometimes sunk in heresies, and reducing everything to culture ends up enslaving society to the interests of the market.
Pope John Paul II, speaking about the conversion of cultures to the Gospel, stated that faith in Christ offers to every culture the path to its fullness. Rightly or wrongly, he meant that Christ is the history alpha and omega, its beginning and its end: everything begins with Him and in Him it finds its fullness. People, societies as subjects of culture - their human construction - springing from the One God are like innumerable rivers finding their source in Christ and, through Him, flowing like rivers of living water into the fullness of the immense Ocean, the One God.
The doctrinal declaration 'Fiducia Supplicans' came shortly after the close of the synod's first general assembly. In an article published in Settimana News on October 30, 2023, Paul M. Zulehner suggested a projection for the second session: "It would be the prelude to a revolutionary success of the 2024 synodal assembly, if at the level of continents and bishops' conferences new decision-making spaces for unity in diversity of the 'synodal path' were opened”. He, then, concluded: "At that point, the African Churches would no longer be obliged to accept the exemption from celibacy decided for the Amazon, and the ecclesiastical regions of Eastern Europe would not be obliged to accept the blessing of same-sex couples. Africa could develop a new pastoral approach to polygamy, as explicitly requested by the report”.
Subjects of the faith, peoples on a journey, live their faith in a culture that is purified by contact with the Gospel, but which can also regress over time: the Church as mother has the patience of mercy: she welcomes, never condemning; she enlightens, never constraining; she offers the truth, without imposing it; she speaks in the name of God, but never presuming to judge in his name. If we love the enemy without saying good of his deeds, even when they are a gang or an army, why not say good of two people even when they are, if they are, in error?