Our Sunday Visitor [Huntington IN]
July 19, 2023
By Lucien Chauvin
Argentine Archbishop Victor Fernández will not be able to forget July 2023. In the span of less than two weeks, he was named the new prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and then cardinal.
Cardinal-designate Fernández, a 61-year-old theologian, told OSV News in a written exchange that his appointment — and those of the other 20 men (including two more Argentines) also set to become cardinals — is part of a larger invitation from Pope Francis to “walk more decidedly along the lines he established in his first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (‘Joy of the Gospel’), which still requires a more forceful application.”
“Who can say that Evangelii Gaudium has been applied? It is not noticeable,” Cardinal-designate Fernández said.
Taking over the dicastery will require the cardinal-designate to move with care, as opponents, both of his appointment and, more broadly, of the pope, have criticized the decision.
Criticisms of the Cardinal-desigante
The two primary criticisms of Cardinal-designate Fernández include his handling of a case of sexual abuse of minors in the Archdioceses of La Plata, which Cardinal-designate Fernández has headed since 2018; and some past writings on the topics of marriage and sexuality.
The sexual abuse case involved Father Eduardo Lorenzo, who committed suicide in 2019 after a judge ordered his arrest based on charges “of corruption of minors and sexual abuse of at least five adolescents between 1990 and 2008,” according to BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts organization that runs an online archive of abuse in the Catholic Church. Critics say Cardinal-designate Fernández failed to act, despite allegations against the priest.
Cardinal-designate Fernández said the case has been presented in the media in a partial way. He said he was in “constant contact with Rome” regarding Father Lorenzo’s case because the case was under investigation by Argentine prosecutors, and he was waiting for results of the legal hearings before making a final decision.
The cardinal-designate refutes claims that he did not act. “First, I prohibited the priest from any activities with minors and then indicated that he would not exercise the priestly ministry and he was sent to live in solitude,” he said.
Desire to do more
BishopAccountability.org published a timeline of how Father Lorenzo’s case was handled, claiming that for one and a half years, then-Archbishop Fernandez was reluctant to believe parents, relatives and parishioners, who protested the reassigning of the priest. Father Lorenzo killed himself the day after the criminal court of La Plata ordered the arrest on Dec. 16, 2019. Then-Archbishop Fernández released “a brief statement, saying that Lorenzo had taken his life ‘after long months of enormous tension and suffering,’” BishopAccountability.org said.
According to the website there were “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.”
Today, Cardinal-designate Fernández said he should have done more. “Today, I would have made this decision quicker, without the need for too much information. I believe that in recent years, thanks to the documents produced by (Pope) Francis and new protocols, we have more elements. And I have learned. Only a few months after Lorenzo’s death, I expelled another man from the priesthood,” he said.
Cardinal-designate Fernández said that the “wisest and most respectful” path for him in leading the dicastery, which for centuries, as the Holy Office, was tracking heresy and checking on sexual morality, would be to “rely on the expertise of the disciplinary team already” in place — for instance, regarding sexual abuse.
“I will help where I can, but, for example, it would not occur to me to provide advice to (Archbishop of Malta Charles) Scicluna, who is an expert and has demonstrated a great capacity in these issues and is respected around the world.”
An even thornier issue may be the questions around the rigorousness of his theology. Cardinal-designate Fernández was investigated by the dicastery when then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, (now Pope Francis) named him as rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.
Critics brought up books, essays and newspaper columns he had written on different topics, including marriage, relationships and homosexuality.
“Years ago, the dicastery sent me some questions about three things I had written. I responded and everything was clarified. It was difficult, because with the way time passes in Rome, it took a year and a half. It was also a learning experience for me,” he said.
Especially one book written by Cardinal-designate Fernández when he was just starting out as a priest — “Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing” — sparked controversy worldwide. In an interview with The Associated Press, the prelate said he did not want it reprinted and wanted to “leave this in the past.”
“But well, now it’s my karma,” he told the AP.
One of the excerpts from the book quoted by the AP reads: “A couple with a lot of sex, a lot of sexual satisfaction, but few kisses that are genuine or with kisses that say nothing is digging the grave of love with each sexual encounter, creating routine, fatigue, and weariness until one of them finds something more human.”
The archbishop of La Plata has said in multiple interviews he did not write the book from his own experience and that it was a project he was writing with a youth group from his parish at the time.
A final issue — and one roiling the relationship between Pope Francis and more conservative sectors in the Church — concerns the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, the older usage of the Roman rite, commonly called the “traditional Latin Mass.”
Pope Francis limited use of the Latin Mass in 2021, and in April, during a conversation with Jesuits in Hungary, called it “the reaction against the modern” and a “nostalgic disease.”
Cardinal-designate Fernández said that he was respectful of liturgical sensibilities, but believed a line is crossed when priests use “liturgy as a way of rejecting Vatican II … imposing this preference above others, with doctrinal and moral obstinance.”
He said that while this issue corresponds to a different dicastery, his new office could be a space for dialogue. Dialogue has characterized Cardinal-designate Fernández’s different roles, from parish priest, to rector of the Catholic university, to cardinal-designate. Finding common ground also is something Pope Francis stressed in his letter to then-Archbishop Fernández upon his appointment as head of the dicastery.
“For differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow. This harmonious growth will preserve Christian doctrine more effectively than any control mechanism,” Pope Francis wrote in the July 1 letter to Archbishop Fernández.