ROME – After the Coptic Church in Egypt earlier this year severed dialogue with the Vatican over its controversial declaration approving blessings for those in same-sex unions, the pope’s doctrine czar has traveled to Cairo an in attempt to smooth things over.

Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), this week traveled to Cairo, where he held a May 22 meeting with Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The reason for the visit, according to Vatican News, the Vatican’s official state-run information platform, was to discuss the DDF’s Dec. 18 declaration, “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” and the Coptic Synod’s subsequent statement rejecting it and announcing a suspension of dialogue.

On March 7, the Coptic Church in Egypt, the largest and one of the most influential Eastern Orthodox Churches, issued a statement announcing its decision “to suspend the theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, re-evaluate the results that the dialogue has achieved since its beginning twenty years ago, and establish new standards and mechanisms for the dialogue to proceed.”

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It followed similar complaints by the Synodal Biblical-Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which condemned Fiducia in February, saying “this innovation reflected a sharp departure from Christian moral teaching.”

Most notably, Fiducia outlined ways in which blessings could be given to couples in irregular situations, including divorced and remarried couples and individuals in same-sex unions.

The declaration insisted the sacrament of marriage was a union between one man and one woman, and it stipulated that any blessing given to those in a same-sex union be spontaneous and not done in a chapel or as part of a ceremony or done in any way that would confuse the union with the sacrament of marriage.

However, the declaration was met with immediate blowback by both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians who argued that it was tantamount to endorsing gay marriage at worst, and at best risked sowing confusion among the faithful.

In addition to the Russian and Coptic Orthodox Churches, some prelates inside of the Church have refused to implement it.

The bishops of Africa in January also took issue with Fiducia, resulting in a collective statement rejecting the document from the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

It was signed by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who is also a member of the pope’s top Council of Cardinal Advisors, who later said the statement was drafted after a trip to Rome to consult over the declaration and its cultural implications in most African nations.

RELATED: African bishops say ‘no’ to blessing of same-sex unions, citing ‘scandal’

In response to the fallout, Fernández issued a clarification on Fiducia Jan. 4, saying the declaration was “clear and definitive” as to Church teaching on marriage, and reiterated the distinction between blessing a same-sex union, and blessing the individuals in that union, saying Fiducia authorized the latter, and thus did not amount to anything “heretical” or “blasphemous.”

RELATED: Vatican insists decree on same-sex blessings not ‘heretical, blasphemous’

In their March statement, the Coptic Church in Egypt reaffirmed its opposition to “all forms of homosexual relationships, because they violate the Holy Bible and the law by which God created man male and female, and it considers that any blessing, whatever its type, for such relationships is a blessing for sin, and this is unacceptable.”

The suspension of dialogue with the Coptic Church marked a significant blow for the Vatican, which just last year took significant steps in cementing Coptic-Catholic dialogue when Tawadros II visited the Vatican and met with Pope Francis in May 2023 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first-ever meeting between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox popes.

During his visit Tawadros attended Francis’s general audience, giving his own speech, and Pope Francis later made the unusual move of formally inserting 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs killed by ISIS into the Catholic Church’s formal martyrology, approving them for veneration by Catholics faithful.

RELATED: Pope includes Coptic Orthodox martyrs in Catholic compendium of saints

According to Vatican News, Fernández during his meeting with Pope Tawadros Wednesday conveyed Pope Francis’s greetings and recalled the meeting between the two last May, seven months before Fiducia Supplicans was issued.

Fernández reportedly explained that both Fiducia Supplicans and Dignitatis Infinita – a DDF document on human dignity issued in April which reiterated the Church’s definition of human dignity and touched on hotbutton issues such as abortion, surrogacy, gender theory and sex change – were clear on the sacrament of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman open to life.

He also apparently insisted on the Catholic Church’s opposition to “same-sex marriage,” and said the Church shares the teachings expressed in the Coptic Church’s March 7 statement.

On Fiducia Supplicans, Fernández reportedly told Tawadros that the blessings are given to individuals, and not the union itself, explaining that if two people present themselves together, they can be blessed with the Sign of the Cross, but it must be brief, spontaneous, not in a ceremony, without liturgical vestments, and cannot in any way be done in a way that confuses it with marriage.

Fernández apparently insisted that these simple and spontaneous blessings can be given in various contexts, and to anyone, regardless of their background.

He said these blessings are not occasions of “sanctifying grace,” but of “actual grace,” consisting of special spiritual assistance from the Holy Spirit that helps move the sinner toward conversion and maturation.

Tawadros reportedly explained the historical, cultural and social context of the Egyptian people to Fernández, noting their special connection to the Nile River.

During his visit to Cairo, Fernández also met with other Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant bishops and patriarchs to discuss matters of relevance to the DDF.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen