VATICAN CITY (VATICAN CITY)
Catholic Culture - Trinity Communications [San Diego CA]
July 3, 2023
Pope Francis’s decision to appoint Argentine Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is “a baffling and troubling choice,” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said in a statement.
BishopAccountability.org hosts the largest public collection of information on the clergy abuse crisis.
“Fernández’s recent handling of a clergy sex abuse case in his home Archdiocese of La Plata raises great concern,” said Doyle. “In his response to allegations, he stood in stout support of the accused priest and refused to believe the victims.”
“Showing disregard for the safety of children, Fernández kept the priest at his parish post even as more victims came forward,” Doyle added. “For his handling of this case, Fernández should have been investigated, not promoted to one of the highest posts in the global Church. Nothing about his performance suggests he is fit to lead the Pope’s battle against abuse and cover-up.”
Since 2001, the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith has been entrusted with adjudicating canonical cases involving the sexual abuse of minors by clerics, along with other serious canonical crimes. In February 2022, Pope Francis divided the Congregation into a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section, with the latter handling the crimes. The Pope formalized this division the following month in the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium.
Installed as Archbishop of La Plata in June 2018, Archbishop Fernández soon learned of allegations against Father Eduardo Lorenzo, a parish priest. Doyle stated:
In February 2019, Fernández publicly defended an influential La Plata priest, the Rev. Eduardo Lorenzo, after a child sex abuse complaint against the priest from 2008 re-surfaced. Fernández published on the archdiocesan website a letter from Lorenzo in which the priest denied the allegation and accused his detractors of “slanders, insults and defamations.” The archbishop publicly agreed with Lorenzo that his critics had another agenda, calling their protests against the priest a “crude battle to ridicule” him.
In March 2019, with Lorenzo under fresh criminal scrutiny, the archbishop traveled to the priest’s parish to concelebrate a Mass during which Lorenzo renewed his commitment to the priesthood.
By September 2019, two more alleged victims of Lorenzo had come forward, but Fernández continued to keep the priest in parish ministry, merely reminding him of the archdiocese’s rule forbidding priests to travel or spend time alone with minors.
In December 2019, hours after a judge issued an order for his arrest, Lorenzo committed suicide. At this point, five victims had come forward. Fernández released a brief statement, saying that Lorenzo had killed himself “after long months of enormous tension and suffering.” He issued no words of comfort to the victims, saying only that he would pray for “those who may have been offended or affected” by the charges against the priest.
In addition to his work as a parish priest, Father Lorenzo was also chaplain of the Buenos Aires Penitentiary Service. In that capacity, “he solidified his relationship with Julio César Grassi, one of Argentina’s most well-known Church abusers who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexual assault and corruption of minors,” the Buenos Aires Times reported in an English-language article.
The article, written after Father Lorenzo’s suicide, discussed in some detail the priest’s alleged abuse of teenage boys.