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Vatican doctrine chief comments on dignity declaration


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 04/10/24

Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, says he wishes that the "dignity" document would get read as much as the "blessing" document.

In a spontaneous style, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, answered journalists’ questions about the declaration released this April 8, 2024 on human dignity.

The more than 20-page declaration lists a number of “grave violations of human dignity,” including gender theory, surrogacy, sex changes, abortion, and euthanasia.

I.MEDIA outlines the highlights of Cardinal Fernández’s press conference at the Vatican, the first for this prefect who is close to Pope Francis.

Against the criminalization of homosexuality

“We do not agree with the criminalization [of homosexuality],” said the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, referring to countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, where people who commit sexual acts with someone of the same sex are considered criminals. He was commenting on a passage in the declaration that says “it should be denounced as contrary to human dignity the fact that, in some places, not a few people are imprisoned, tortured, and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation.”

Cardinal Fernández explained that a Catholic should not support such laws. He confided that he had once read a text written by Catholics blessing their “military government” for putting in place laws against homosexuals.

On this issue, the Argentine Prefect echoes Pope Francis. Last year, on the plane back from his trip to South Sudan, the Pontiff said “to criminalize people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.”

Towards a change in the catechism on homosexuality?

In the catechism, No. 2357, the Catholic Church writes that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Asked whether this qualification should be changed, Cardinal Fernández acknowledged that this “is a very strong expression and it really needs to be explained.”

“Maybe we could find an expression that is even clearer to understand what we mean,” he continued. 

In a few words, the Prefect explained that the Church in reality wants to insist on “the immense beauty of the encounter between man and woman,” that can create new life. This relationship cannot be compared to any other, he continued, adding that “it is true that the expression could find other more suitable words to express this mystery.”

The seriousness of sex changes for minors

Responding to a journalist who noted that the text addressed the issue of sex changes without specifically mentioning minors, Cardinal Fernández admitted that the violations of dignity outlined in the declaration all merited further development. “When it comes to children the issue has a much greater seriousness,” he said. “The gravity becomes more important because these are human persons with […] a freedom that still needs to be enlightened to be able to choose, and this is a choice that changes your whole life.”

Referring to the Vatican’s clear warnings about gender theories, the Prefect stressed “the importance of embracing reality as it is.”

“Today there is a tendency to want to create reality, this leads us to an omnipotent man, […] who thinks with his intelligence, his will, he is able to build everything as if there was nothing before him, as if there was no reality that is given,” he explained. 

Abortion: the right to life is paramount

Asked about the recent constitutionalization of abortion in France, the cardinal expressed the Vatican’s opposition to abortion, saying that the point of development of the child in the womb doesn’t change anything; “it is a circumstance.”

In the case of a female child in gestation, he said, “there are two women; there is the right of one against the right of the other.” For the Church, “it is the original right, which is the right to life, that is the main one, between these two ‘women.’”

Surrogacy and unfulfilled desires

On the question of surrogacy, Cardinal Fernández acknowledged the “sensitivity” of people desiring a biological child. “We can’t judge them, but we invite them to develop their desires in another way,” he said, suggesting in particular adoption. 

The Church invites people to “transcend this desire because we are talking about the dignity of a person, which is a much greater thing than the desire that one may have,” he continued. “We have many unfulfilled desires.”

The declaration issued by the Dicastery states that “the legitimate desire to have a child cannot be transformed into a ‘right to a child’ that fails to respect the dignity of that child.” The Vatican calls for a universal ban on surrogacy.

Two popes can contradict each other

In his speech, the prefect of the Vatican’s doctrine body was keen to explain that the “truth does not change, […] but our understanding, and the understanding of the Church, develops, grows, deepens.” He criticized the idea that Pope Francis “can’t add anything” to what has been said before, “as if the magisterium had been definitively closed with the previous popes.” 

The Cardinal cited moments of doctrinal evolution seen in history, such as for example Pope Nicholas V’s Dum Diversas bull, which in 1452 authorized the King of Portugal to enslave Saracens and pagans. Around 80 years later, in 1537, his successor Paul III threatened those who subjected others to slavery with excommunication.

“Only 80 years later […] a pope says practically the opposite of a previous pope,” said Cardinal Fernández. “This is an example that shows how the Church’s understanding of truth evolves and that it does not always grow in the same homogeneous direction with previous documents.”

Cardinal Fernández defends blessing document

Fiducia supplicans is a document that has had more than 7 billion views on the internet,” said Cardinal Fernández of the text published by his dicastery last December authorizing non-liturgical blessings for couples in same-sex and other irregular relationships. “How many documents we don’t even remember the name of?” asked the prefect, seeming satisfied with the impact of the text. He shared the outcomes of an external survey that the Vatican received the results of, that said that “in Italy among those under 35, 75% of people agree with this document.”

“We wish that [Dignitas infinita], which is certainly a much more important statement, could have this level of impact,” the Cardinal reflected. 

During the conference, the Prefect acknowledged the “mess” caused by the release of Fiducia supplicans; a text that did not please “some liturgists” who consider that “everything blessed must be in accordance with God’s will.” However, “there are blessings that do not confirm, do not sanction, do not consecrate, do not justify anything, They are only a prayer of the minister to express God’s help to continue living,” he said. 

Cardinal Fernández’s friendship with Pope Francis

Cardinal Fernández also opened up about his long-standing friendship with Pope Francis. He spoke of the support he had received from the then Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, when he faced strong opposition to his appointment as Rector of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in 2009. “Everyone was against me, fiercely,” he recalled.

“When we find ourselves like that we are tempted to blame ourselves, to punish ourselves, to disappear from the world. But one of those days Bergoglio told me with firmness and appreciation, ‘No, Tucho, raise your head and don’t let them take away your dignity because they can’t take away your dignity.’ Those few words touched me forever,” he said. 

Blocked for some time by Rome, Víctor Manuel Fernández’s appointment to the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina was finally accepted in 2011 after Cardinal Bergoglio came to the Vatican to plead his case.

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