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New head of DDF gives revealing interview

VICTOR MANUEL FERNANDEZ

Marko Vombergar-ALETEIA

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández

I.Media - published on 07/08/23

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández talks about his position on various issues, from abortion to sexual abuse cases, and the Inquisition.

“Doctrine does not change,” because it is the “immutable mystery of the Trinity expressed in Christ.” However, “our understanding of this doctrine” may evolve, explains Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández in an interview published on July 5, 2023, by the Spanish website InfoVaticana, which is not linked to the Holy See’s official communications.

In his first media appearance since his appointment as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 60-year-old Argentine theologian outlines the guidelines for his future action, which he sees as a continuation of the work of his predecessor, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer.

His approach to controversial topics

Asserting that he feels distant from “internal ecclesiastical matters,” the Argentine archbishop distances himself from the German Synodal Way, stating that he has “never had this preoccupation with ordaining women or anything of the sort.” Instead, he explains, he puts his enthusiasm into “proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, [and] spreading spirituality.” He notes that the majority of his books “are about God, prayer, Mary, the Mass, confession, eternal life…” 

Nonetheless, he adds that something good can come out of the German Synodal Way, “even if it may be necessary to polish things up, clarify them, let them mature.”  He refers to his predecessor at the DDF, saying, “Cardinal Ladaria once told me that he wished there was a heretic who would force us to go deeper into the faith.”

He puts his enthusiasm into “proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, [and] spreading spirituality.”

He reiterates his firm opposition to abortion and reiterates that “‘marriage’ in the strict sense is only one thing: the stable union of two very different beings, man and woman, who through this difference are capable of engendering new life.”

He is then asked about blessings for homosexual couples, which were banned by the CDF in 2021 but to which some episcopates are open. In reply, the future prefect reiterates the importance of avoiding “rites or blessings that could fuel that confusion” in relation to marriage. He does, however, suggest “analyzing” and possibly “confirming” forms of blessing that do not create confusion with the sacrament of marriage as such.

A feeling of inadequacy for disciplinary matters

In 2018, Fernández was named the Archbishop of La Plata, a city of almost 200,000 inhabitants to the southeast of Buenos Aires. In the interview he speaks of the difficulties he faced regarding cases of abuse. “When I arrived in La Plata I had little idea of how to deal with those matters,” he admits. He says it’s “complex” to combine the need to believe those who present themselves as victims while also preserving due process. He relied on the support of canon lawyers and learned how to manage such situations, but “with great suffering out of fear of being unjust to one party or the other.”

This, he explains, is why he had initially turned down the post of Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; he didn’t consider himself prepared “to lead the work in the area of discipline.” Indeed, “You can imagine that having to go to Rome to dedicate myself to that was torture,” he says.

Tasked by the Pope with a different focus

Pope Francis’ recent letter inviting him to focus his mission on “theology and the transmission of the faith” reassured him. He also points out that his various academic appointments in Argentina were not made due to his “friendship with Bergoglio” but thanks to election by his peers, who thus gave him academic legitimacy.

Alluding to the harshness of the Holy Office and the Inquisition, the antecedents of his dicastery, Archbishop Fernández explains that even “if historical conditioning can diminish guilt,” the mode of action formerly employed by ecclesiastical tribunals was “objectively wrong.” “We cannot deny that there was torture and death,” he laments.

The Argentine archbishop says he “admires” his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, whom he considers a model “as a theologian and also for his working style.”

Archbishop Fernández, appointed by the Pope on July 1, 2023, will officially leave the Diocese of La Plata on August 5, and will take up his duties in Rome as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in mid-September.

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