Rorate Caeli

Revealing interview with Archbishop Fernández: "Francis wants to give a different meaning to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith"

Giuseppe Nardi
July 5, 2023

Msgr. Victor Manuel Fernández, the newly appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church, flirts with the media while discrediting his new office and his predecessors in office. The Dicastery of the Faith had been the old Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Office, in other words, the Inquisition, an institution that investigated all kinds of people -- including himself, the new Prefect of the Faith!

Now, however, Pope Francis wants to fundamentally rebuild it. It already became the "Dicastery" for the Doctrine of the Faith last year, and he, Fernández, will now complete the transformation. The new prefect of the faith spoke to Argentine media about his new task.

Tucho Fernández explained his appointment as the new prefect by saying that the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, issued by Francis for the reorganization of the Roman Curia, "was not enough." Francis had seen that the effect he had hoped for had not occurred to the extent he had hoped. For this reason, he has now called him, Victor Manuel Fernández, his Argentine compatriot, confidant, and friend, back to Rome to set a new course in terms of personnel and to open a new chapter. Francis has recently "changed his mind" and once again reorganized the responsibilities of the Dicastery, Tucho Fernández told Radio Perfil and Net TV [on July 3].

Complete the dismantling of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Fernández explained that Francis had called him to Rome to complete the reorganization of the Dicastery because previous efforts had been insufficient. Not content with this obvious criticism of the previous Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, he took an even bigger sideswipe at the very authority he will lead in the future and at his distinguished predecessors in office, especially Joseph Ratzinger, who was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for more than twenty years before being elected Pope.

This side-blow was made by Fernández citing the aforementioned negative record and referring to the curial authority as "the Inquisition," well aware of the negative connotations associated with it through black legends in the collective memory. 481 years after its foundation, however, with Fernández at its head, the Inquisition, "which even investigated me," would now finally be wound up. That seems to be what the Argentine Pope's confidant wants to say.

But why was Tucho Fernández investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? The Pope's confidant was accused of not sharing the Church's teaching on homosexuality. However, this is hardly surprising, since there are even doubts about Santa Marta's position on this issue. Pope Francis said in the summer of 2013, in what is probably his most famous and also most infamous sentence on homosexuality, "Who am I to judge?" He said that the Church's teaching on this point is well-known and clear, yet Francis never speaks this teaching out loud, in a publicly perceptible way in his pontificate. How are people supposed to know it if it is not taught, at least not by the pope, and at a time when homoheresy is challenging the Church more intensely than ever?

The appointment of a man as prefect of the faith who had been under investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself is part of the kind of "humor" that Pope Francis particularly likes. In the Church, however, notable circles no longer find it funny.

Fernández pursues a reckoning when he (following Francis) speaks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as an inquisition that "persecuted" and also used "immoral methods." The cudgels are precisely positioned by the Dicastery's new highest official, and serve to dismantle its authority. Tucho Fernández deliberately leaves open whether he is speaking of distant centuries in the past or in very recent times since the Second Vatican Council. No Roman authority is more hated by modernist church circles than the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in their view none should be dissolved and dismantled more quickly than it.

The appointment of Tucho Fernández, the "kissing theologian," shows that Francis intends to do just that. First, after his election, he ignored the then-Prefect Gerhard Müller, who remained from Benedict XVI's time; then he pulled the teeth of the Congregation under Prefect Ladaria, and now follows the winding-up of that venerable curial body that was established as a consequence of the Reformation with the mandate to watch over the Depositum fidei so that no heresies may creep in.

There is no doubt among the best connoisseurs that Tucho Fernández is neither able nor willing to fulfill this original mandate. If Francis nevertheless appointed him, it was precisely because he will not. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received its new name as a "Dicastery" on July 1, 2022. The name-change finds its completion with the appointment of the new Prefect: the old Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith no longer exists and, according to Francis, should no longer exist.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "has even investigated me"

Fernández went so far as to present himself to the aforementioned Argentine media as a "victim" of the Inquisition:

So you can imagine that being named in this place is a painful experience. This dicastery that I am going to lead was the Holy Office, the Inquisition, which even investigated me. People here sent in articles of mine that they thought were heretical, and I spent several months answering them. They asked me questions and I answered them again and again, which was really very annoying. They even sent the dicastery an article of mine in a small and little-known newspaper in Rio Cuarto, because at that time there were homosexual couples (we are talking about 30 years ago) who asked for a blessing, and the bishop had said that we could not do that, and asked me to explain. I said in the paper that we didn't do that because we understand marriage as a union of a man and a woman open to the procreation of life, so we can't identify it. But that doesn't mean we judge people, interfere in their intimate lives or condemn anyone.

He said he "spent months on the nonsense" of having to justify himself to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because of "old" articles. Tucho Fernández alluded to an article from "30 years ago" in his self-defense, but he did not say what his position on homosexuality is today... Rather, he reinforced in listeners the distorted idea of a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that must have been a sinister, repressive apparatus, the main function of which was to arbitrarily "persecute" blameless theologians:

There were great theologians at the time of the Second Vatican Council who were persecuted by this institution. And there is a famous case of a great theologian who urinated on the door of the Holy Office one night as a gesture of contempt toward this persecution methodology.

Pope Francis "wants to give a different meaning to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith"

When Francis asked him a first time if he wanted to head the Roman authority, he, Fernández, declined. A second time, however, he said, it was not possible.

Later, when he was in the hospital, he asked me yet again, and I couldn't say no. He told me, 'I want to redesign it, think about it.' Then he told me: 'Don't worry, I will send you a letter explaining that I want to give a different meaning to this dicastery, that is, to promote thought and theological reflection in dialogue with the world and science, that is, instead of persecutions and condemnations, to create spaces for dialogue.' So that reassured me.

Even the case of Galileo Galilei, which has long been reevaluated in a new light by better historical research, was portrayed by Fernández in an anti-clerical sense. And further:

We have said that science, art and politics are the three ways to change the world, and that religion touches all three areas, so I understand this responsibility.

The reality is that the pope needs people he trusts, and I have to live in the Vatican. He even went out of his own way to find a small house for me because he knew me, he knew there were some properties where I could live.

Regarding his new task, Fernández said above all what he wants to prevent or what he wants to confront (which indicate that he obviously has little knowledge of the history of the Holy Inquisition):

All forms of authoritarianism that seek to impose an ideological register; forms of populism that are also authoritarian; and unitary thinking. It is obvious that the history of the Inquisition is shameful because it is harsh, and that it is profoundly contrary to the Gospel and to Christian teaching itself. That is why it is so appalling.

But in other colors, perhaps in a more covert form and with all kinds of pretexts, there were and are similar things in politics and in various institutions.

We always say that the events of the past must not be judged with the categories of today. And they have evolved over the centuries, which may not allow us to justify them, but to understand them in part.

But current phenomena must be judged with the criteria of today, and today everywhere there are still forms of authoritarianism and the imposition of a single way of thinking. Maybe sometimes, instead of dwelling on criticizing the past, we should be more concerned with the things that should have already changed in today's world.

In the radio broadcast, Tucho Fernández treated the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as a discontinued model, something outdated. He sees himself as its executioner who has to carry out the liquidation. The task that this institution has held for 481 years, the preservation and defense of the faith, was not even touched upon by him.

"Francis is a very post-conciliar pope"

Fernández turns 61 in two weeks, on July 18. He can remain in office for a correspondingly long time. Above all, if Vatican augurs are followed, he will soon be created a cardinal and as such will exercise influence as a papal elector until 2042.

Regarding the Second Vatican Council, "Tucho" said:

Yes, of course, the Council was an explosion, and for those who studied at that time, it was certainly a sign of life. In this sense, what you say is correct, that he is the first pope who can be considered purely post-conciliar.

Fernández thus made a profession for Francis by identifying him with the post-conciliar period. This is not a mere statement of time, but an identification with a direction in the Church.

Users of "immoral methods": prior Prefects