Liberal Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández is pope's right-hand man | EUROtoday

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VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis first requested if he can be prepared to take one of many loftiest jobs on the Vatican, heading the workplace that units the insurance policies of the Roman Catholic Church, Víctor Manuel Fernández mentioned no. The liberal Argentine archbishop nervous his appointment would possibly make issues worse for a pope dealing with historic inside dissent.

“I knew that there were groups that did not love me, some willing to do anything — judging by the expressions they used on social networks and even in messages they wrote on my Facebook page — and I was afraid of causing problems for Francis,” Fernández mentioned in an interview with The Washington Post.

When the pope referred to as once more final June, from a hospital the place he’d simply undergone intestinal surgical procedure, Fernández relented. He moved to Vatican City, was named a cardinal and have become the pope’s right-hand man, serving to to translate the adjustments in tone and magnificence Francis delivered to the papacy into concrete new tips for 1.4 billion Catholics.

“Fernández’s appointment was the most consequential of [Francis’s] pontificate,” mentioned Massimo Faggioli, a Catholic theologian at Villanova University. “After one year of Fernández, we’ve witnessed a series … of frequent, specific, out-of-the-ordinary actions have never been observed. And this from a prefect who knows full well that he’s Francis’s own alter ego and enjoys the pope’s complete trust.”


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Most Catholics have little sense of the person behind the Vatican’s current main pronouncements, together with blessings for folks in same-sex relationships. But the church conservatives against Francis see Fernández as Enemy No. 2. Within the partitions of Vatican City, the machinations towards the 61-year outdated cardinal have risen to the extent of excessive palace intrigue, full with images snapped surreptitiously within the evening and personal threats to “destroy” him.

A brand new period for an outdated workplace

Fernández’s arrival marked the top of an period of conservative management within the Vatican division often known as the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. The workplace is most well-known for the tribunals of the Roman Inquisition within the sixteenth century. In more moderen many years, it has managed — critics say mismanaged — instances of clerical abuse; bolstered the “immorality” of premarital intercourse, abortion and euthanasia; and disciplined bishops, monks and nuns for not toeing the Vatican line.

Through Fernández, Pope Francis got down to reinvent the workplace.

“The dicastery that you will preside over in other epochs came to use immoral methods,” he wrote in a letter to Fernández in July. “Those were times when more than promoting theological knowledge they chased after possible doctrinal errors. What I expect from you is something without doubt much different.”

Like Francis, Fernández — recognized broadly by his nickname “Tucho” — has ushered in a change in tone. In information conferences, his prolonged digressions and elaborate anecdotes can really feel like falling “into a short story by Borges,” a author for the Catholic Herald assessed. In one session, he uttered a light profanity. “Tucho, the cardinal prefect with a sinful penchant for swear words,” a scandalized Italian information outlet declared.

Fernández can also be liable for adjustments of substance. With Francis’s consent, he penned the main doc in December that licensed Catholic monks to bless folks in same-sex relationships — simply two and half years after his extra conservative predecessor had rejected the notion out of hand. Fernández issued a decree explicitly permitting transgender godparents and baptisms of transgender folks.

Last month, he launched a brand new ruling that took among the magic out of the Catholic church, eradicating a bishop’s proper to declare unexplained phenomena — reminiscent of claimed apparitions of the Virgin Mary — as “supernatural” occasions. And final week his workplace took its most decisive motion but towards the pope’s critics, launching a trial of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on fees of fomenting schism and denying the pope’s legitimacy.

Senior church critics insist it’s no coincidence that Francis waited to position Fernández within the rulemaking submit till after the demise of Benedict XVI, the traditionalist pope emeritus.

“I think Pope Francis felt himself now freer to realize his ideas,” mentioned Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, an ally of Benedict who ran the dicastery from 2012 to 2017. “And therefore, he asked [Cardinal] Fernández to eat [to] his side, and to promote this program, this agenda.”

Not all of Fernández’s work has come off as “liberal.” LGBTQ+ activists had been bowled over in April when he unveiled a doc, additionally signed by the pope, that mentioned “sex-change intervention” threatened “human dignity.” Fernández informed The Post {that a} model drafted earlier than his arrival had centered extra closely on gender id, and a part of his contribution had been to carry its contents according to the pope’s broadly inclusive message towards migrants, the poor and others. The last doc, he famous, additionally explicitly denounced persecution primarily based on sexual orientation.

The mission of inclusion led by Francis and Fernández took successful because of the pope’s repeated use of a slur in closed-door discussions about upholding the ban on overtly homosexual males finding out for the priesthood.

“Certainly it has done damage to the relationship that was created with the LGBTQ+ community,” Faggioli mentioned.

Fernández argued that in clerical circles, the phrase the pope used — “frociaggine,” or “faggotness” — will not be “a synonym for homosexuality” however refers to “some groups in seminaries and in priestly environments that lobby in search of power” and “see all heterosexuals as potential enemies.”

“It is true that it would be advisable to find another word to express that reality, because it can seem homophobic,” Fernández mentioned. “But I have seen gays themselves use similar expressions.”

He additionally left open the door to a recasting of official church educating — or catechism — that states gay acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

“All subjects can be refined,” he mentioned. “And the language we use can always be much better. In this way there is a chance of greater clarity.”

The adjustments led to by Fernández and the pope have deepened rifts inside the church. The ruling on same-sex blessings prompted a revolt by Catholic bishops and cardinals in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There was grumbling contained in the Vatican, too.

Fernández declined to touch upon particular threats and intrigues. But in January, he informed the Italian outlet La Stampa that “three times I received threats [saying]‘we shall destroy you.’”

In one beforehand undisclosed incident, Fernández went to the pope over issues he was being surveilled, in accordance with an individual aware of the occasions who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate confidential Vatican issues.

Those issues had been primarily based on {a photograph} printed in November by a conservative Spanish-language Catholic weblog. In that nighttime picture, which accompanied an article essential of Fernández, he’s seen speaking on the cellphone at a distance by way of a window of his house on restricted Vatican grounds. The picture identifies the situation of his non-public quarters, and Fernández took that as each an invasion of privateness and a veiled menace, the particular person mentioned.

Opponents have moreover unearthed and circulated two esoteric tomes — “Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing” and “Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality” — that Fernández wrote within the Nineteen Nineties, and by which he mused intimately on the non secular features of sexual orgasms and recounted a sensual encounter with Jesus as imagined by a 16-year-old woman.

Decrying them as “scandalous books of an erotic nature which border on pornography,” one arch-conservative Catholic group — the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and Family — has demanded Fernández’s resignation.

In retrospect, Fernández mentioned, the books mirrored much less maturity than he would have appreciated, however he maintained the subjects shouldn’t be off-limits in non secular discourse: “I don’t have any shame of the subjects,” he mentioned. “If I had to write them today, they would be richer and more complete.”

An extended historical past with Francis

The marketing campaign towards Fernández, and by default, towards the pope, has additionally revived outdated claims that the Argentine cardinal lengthy served as Francis’s secret “ghost writer” on essential papal paperwork. In his workplace simply south of the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square, Fernández declined to debate the subject. But there isn’t any query that he’s a longtime good friend of Francis.

In 2007, Francis — then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires — invited Fernández to a serious Latin American Episcopal convention and ended up having him work on the gathering’s concluding doc. They sat collectively on the flight house and engaged in deep dialog, Fernández mentioned.

“We all know that the pope is a very austere man in his personal life,” mentioned Alberto Bochatey, an auxiliary bishop in Fernández’s former diocese of La Plata, Argentina. “In Buenos Aires, he cooked for himself, washed his dishes and had a Tupperware with his vegetables. In that sense, [Fernández] is very similar, and there may have been a human as well as a theological affinity.”

In 2009, the longer term pope requested Fernández to be rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Fernández has publicly recounted how his detractors sought to undermine him by resurfacing journal items he’d written. In one, he tried to clarify the church’s stance towards same-sex marriage whereas providing no ethical condemnation.

After his native critics despatched these items to the Vatican, the dicastery opened a file on him, Fernández has mentioned. He felt as if he had been wandering “among the wolves,” he recalled to reporters in April. But Francis had impressed him to remain and struggle.

That appears to his strategy now, too.

Fernández has been criticized as a alternative for his position by survivors of clerical abuse, who level to situations in Argentina the place he allegedly sought to guard accused monks. Fernández has admitted to errors, and in a Facebook submit final yr, mentioned his preliminary reluctance to just accept the Vatican job was additionally primarily based on the truth that he “felt unqualified” to handle the delicate instances of clerical abuse inside the dicastery. The pope was so bent on hiring Fernández, nevertheless, that he navigated that problem by ring-fencing the dicastery’s work on abuse instances beneath autonomous investigators.

More than something, Fernández has emerged because the pope’s chief defender, repeatedly reminding the pontiff’s Catholic critics of their obligation to papal fealty.

“Religious assent of mind and will must be shown,” Fernández mentioned throughout one information convention by which he learn aloud from a web page of canon legislation.

No, he informed senior church figures who had been in revolt, the pope’s pronouncement on blessings for same-sex {couples} was not “heretical” or “blasphemous.”

He has expressed an understanding of cultural variations on gender and sexuality in varied international locations however pushed again towards critics of Francis’s LGBTQ+ outreach.

“What they want [the church] to say is that homosexuals are going to hell, they have to convert, if they don’t, they can’t come to church less have a blessing. This is what they want,” Fernández mentioned.

David Feliba in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.