Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández. Photo: La Plata

“I’ll Do Things My Way”: The New Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith Talks About the German Synod and Blessings to Gay Couples

A Spanish media outlet achieves one of the first interviews on current ecclesial issues with the new prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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(ZENIT News / Madrid-Buenos Aires, 07.05.2023).- Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave an interview to a Spanish media, in which he addressed controversial subjects in regard to his appointment.

The Argentine Archbishop said that recently he sent a letter to all the Members of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, “saying to them that I admired Cardinal Ladaria as theologian and also for his style of work, which I consider exemplary, but I added that I would do it ‘my way’’ as the Italian song says. Taking into account the Pope’s call to synodality, I’ll first have to listen a bit before taking decisions, but there certainly are considerations in the letter the Pope sent me that we’ll have to apply in some way.”

Javier Arias, the interviewer asked him why he requested that he not have to handle the subject of abuses because,” said the new Prefect, “I didn’t consider myself adequate to lead the work in the disciplinary area. I’m not a canonist and, in fact, when I arrived in La Plata, I had little idea how to deal with these issues. It’s complex because in principle one has to believe those that put forward accusations of abuse of minors; they must be believed, and, on the other hand, one cannot condemn a priest without the due process, which requires time. And in the midst come all the claims to which one must respond saying the least possible in order not to interfere. 

Regarding his experience in dealing with abuse cases during his stage as Archbishop of La Plata, he adds: “In that moment I let myself be guided by the canonists and I started learning, but with enormous suffering because of the fear of being unjust with one or another. You can imagine that to have to go to Rome to attend to this was a torture. However, the Pope told me that, in fact, what he wanted was that the Prefect delegate that task to the Disciplinary Section, which was created a short time ago, because it has very suitable professionals  and, he added: “I ask you that, as Prefect, you dedicate your personal endeavour in a more direct way to the main purpose of the Dicastery, related to the faith, to Theology, to the transmission of the faith. I felt more secure in this. If “humility is truth,” I feel sure of my theological knowledge, although I’ve written many prayer booklets and simple catecheses. I’m a theologian and the Pope points out in his letter that I was Dean of Theology, President of the Argentine Theology Society and President of the Episcopal Commission of (doctrinal) Faith and Culture, always chosen in voting by my peers. It was not for accommodation o friendship with Bergoglio.”

Another subject addressed in the interview is the affirmation, made in a letter, that the Holy Office (now Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith) even tortured and killed. To this the interviewee responds, saying that “we can’t deny that there were tortures and deaths. We know that that can’t be judged with current criteria. I reiterated this in a journalistic interview. However, what is wrong is wrong and I defend objective morality. If the historical conditions can diminish culpability, and that must be contemplated in our judgements, we cannot deny that that was “objectively” evil. We also know that other “courts” of the time were much more cruel and immoral than the Catholic Church, even those of other Christian Confessions, but what is wrong is wrong.”

Another subject the new Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith was asked about was the German Synod. To the question about how he intends to address that problem, Monsignor Fernández said that “The Germans always call attention, and in my style of Archbishop that concern for ordaining women or things like that weren’t present. Obviously it’s now up to me to update myself on the matter, to listen, converse, consult. For now I must say to you that I don’t believe that there is not something good in this German “move.” Cardinal Ladaria once said to me that, hopefully, there would be some heretic that obliges us to reflect further on the faith. This historical question will leave us something good, although it might be necessary to polish things, specify them, mature them.”

The “blessing of homosexual couples “ is another question. “Do you agree?” InfoVaticana asks him. And to this, he answers: “Look, just as I am firmly against abortion (and I dare you to find someone in Latin America  who has written more articles than me against abortion,) I also understand that “marriage” in the strict sensed is only one thing: that stable union of two very different beings as are men and women, who in that difference are able to engender new life. There is nothing that can be compared to that, and to use that name to express something else isn’t good or correct. At the same time, I believe that gestures or actions must be avoided that can express something different. Therefore, I believe that the greatest care must be taken to avoid Rites or Blessings that can fuel that confusion. However, if a Blessing is given in such a way that it doesn’t trigger that confusion, it will have to be analyzed and confirmed. As you’ll see, there is a point when one leaves a properly theological discussion and enters a question that is, rather, prudential or disciplinary.”

Given that one of the crucial subjects that has come to light as a result of the appointment of the new Prefect is the book dedicated to the subject of kisses; he is asked if he regrets having written it: “No, any theologian, biblical scholar or writer knows that to interpret a text it’s key to situate oneself with clarity in front of one’s own gender and not ask what one cannot give. That’s a book I did with a group of young people when I was a very young parish priest. And the subject of that book is profoundly conservative. Do you know why? Because it responded to the concern of those young people – very well formed by me – to learn to explain to other young people why pre-marital relations must be avoided. Look at what progress was the objective of the book.”

And he adds: “Well, chatting and chatting it occurred to us to point out that sex isn’t everything, that if one postpones it one can develop many other ways of expression of love and grow in that love. Then, as example of one of those expressions of affection that can exist without the necessity to arrive at sex, was the kiss. Thus, with them, we did a survey of other young people, we looked for poems and went putting together this catechesis. It wasn’t a Theology manual. It was a pastoral attempt which I’ll never regret. Of course today I wouldn’t write something like that, I’m now 60 and am beginning to prepare myself for eternal life. In fact, shortly after I requested the publisher not to reprint it. Don’t you think it’s bad faith to take that small book, to use loose phrases of that youth ministry essay to judge me as a theologian?”

The interview ended by having him note the controversy that his appointment engendered in some realms. About what he would say to them he points out: “These tasks can also be reconfigured, and the Pope has the right to give them another face. Don’t you think it’s good that some point in history that post is occupied by a Latin American who has been a parish priest of the peripheries, who grew up in a small town of the interior, with close sensitivity to the pain of the rejected of society, with a very different history of life from a European or American, but who at the same time is a Doctor in Theology? Once again I tell you that I’ll learn from history, I’ll respect the processes, I’ll dialogue, but I will do so ‘my way.’”

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