Rorate Caeli

Bishop Victor Fernandez: From Church to Movement (Caminante Wanderer)

Archbishop Víctor Fernández: From the Church to the Movement

Caminante Wanderer
September 18, 2023

On September 11, another of Argentina's most beloved sons, Archbishop Victor Fernández, took office as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Two Argentines are at the top of the government of the Catholic Church. A source of pride for all those born in this particularly blessed land.

And the new prefect, now almost cardinal, has had some emanations in recent days in the form of interviews granted to Fr. Spadaro of La civiltà cattolica and Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register. I would like to comment briefly on one of the prelate's statements, but first I must point out that Catholics can rest assured that the formation and wisdom of the new inquisitor is overwhelming. Fernández affirms that the formation he received was "strictly Thomistic" [in the seminary of Rio Cuarto?] although his teacher was St. Bonaventure, very appropriate for Franciscan times. And he also recognizes his discipleship with respect to Maurice Blondel, without forgetting the "argumentative precision of Karl Rahner, the spiritual depth of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the ecclesiology of Yves Congar and the work of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedetto XVI". And he immediately adds Étienne Gilson and Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange. And to show that he is open to the Latin American reality, he also confesses to be a disciple of Gustavo Gutiérrez, Lucio Gera, and Rafael Tello, without forgetting Hans-Georg Gadamer. An abyssal void of wisdom! Does Fernández not realize, or does he not have a good friend to whisper it to him, that by exposing the long list of his teachers, which shows his lack of fidelity to any of them and the theological potpourri that meanders in his head, he only documents his ignorance, his insecurity, and his incompetence for the position he occupies?

But the most interesting and hilarious thing the prefect has said was in the Pentin interview.

In response to a question about accepting Pope Francis' magisterium, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández said in an exclusive email interview on Sept. 8 that the pope not only has the duty to guard and preserve the 'static' deposit of faith, but also a second unique charism, only given to Peter and his successors, which is 'a living and active gift'.

"I do not have this charism, nor do you, nor Cardinal [Raymond] Burke. Today only Pope Francis has it," Archbishop Fernández said. (Cardinal Burke recently wrote the preface to a book in which he harshly criticizes the upcoming Synod on synodality and has often expressed concern about some teachings of this pontificate.)

"Now, if I am told that some bishops have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the Holy Father's doctrine, we will enter a vicious circle (in which anyone can claim to have the true doctrine) and that would be heresy and schism," he said.

I am not a theologian and those who are can correct me. There is a "charism" proper to the Petrine ministry and which only the Pope of the moment possesses, and it consists in the assistance of the Holy Spirit which grants him infallibility provided the following conditions are met:

1) The Pope must speak ex cathedra, that is, from his position of supreme authority in the Church and in exercising his extraordinary magisterium.

2) The statement must refer to a matter of faith or morals.

3) The Pope must clearly express his intention to define a doctrine in an infallible manner.

Only when these conditions are fulfilled is one speaks of "absolute inerrancy", that is, his teaching is considered infallible and free from error. Consequently, Catholics are obliged to accept it as true and binding for faith and religious practice.

Furthermore, papal infallibility establishes the Pope's final authority in matters of faith and morals. When the pope pronounces an infallible statement, Catholics are expected to accept it as definitive truth and not subject to debate or question.

However, it is important to keep in mind that papal infallibility has specific limitations. It does not imply that the pope is infallible in all aspects of his teaching or that he is incapable of error in other areas. It only applies to specific statements made under the conditions mentioned above.

All this is doctrine known to any educated Catholic. It is said by the First Vatican Council in Pastor Aeternus and reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium 25, when it speaks of the Roman Pontiff "singularly residing in the charism of the infallibility of the Church herself", but only when he speaks as a universal teacher, that is, when the conditions indicated above are fulfilled, and not when he expresses himself as a private teacher.

However, Archbishop Fernández seems -- perhaps following Gadamer -- to be making an extended hermeneutic of the dispositions of the last two councils: Pope Francis would have "absolute inerrancy" and, therefore, "final authority" in all his teachings, regardless of whether or not they are pronounced ex cathedra. Even those pronounced ex aerea nave or ex latrina would also be certain teachings with the obligation to be accepted, under penalty of falling into heresy.

I am not exaggerating. It is a matter of following the reasoning of Fernández.

Major premise: The Pope must not only guard the "static" deposit of faith, but also teach the doctrine of the Church by virtue of a "living and active" charism that he possesses and that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Minor premise: Neither the bishops nor the lay faithful possess this "living and active" gift, since it is exclusive to the Roman pontiff.

Conclusion: All bishops and lay faithful must accept not only the "static" deposit of faith but also all the Pope's teachings on the Church. And if they fail to do so and criticize it, they fall into schism and heresy.

We can already foresee what the new prefect's management will be like. Daily, the dicastery will issue sentences of heresy urbi et orbi, and the Church, in which there is "room for everyone, everyone, everyone" will end up being a Church only for the "obedient." It turns out now that Catholics are obliged to follow not the doctrine of the Church, but the doctrine of the Pope. This is nonsense, an inconceivable nonsense in the mouth of the one who should be the theological head of the Church. As Dr. Eduardo Echevarría wrote, it is one thing to affirm that the Magisterium has its own charism in the mission of guarding infallibly the Faith delivered once and for all to the Church -- and quite another to affirm that the Pope has a charism that safeguards his own doctrine.

The new Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has expressed with an official voice what we warned about at this blog a little more than two years ago. At that time we said that Tradition had been devoured by the Magisterium and Archbishop Fernández promises to devour Scripture as well! Because according to him, the "living and active charism" with which Pope Francis is clothed is superior to the "static deposit" (that is, Scripture and Tradition). Heretics would no longer be those who deny the teachings contained in the depositum fidei, for example that adulterers cannot receive the Eucharist or that sexual relations between persons of the same sex are a grave sin, but rather those who question the "living and active charism" with which the Roman Pontiff is invested.

How much Pius IX would have given to have a prefect of the theological mettle of Tucho Fernández! It is curious how the gallery of characters that inhabit the Vatican in this pontificate, openly progressive and denigrating of past times, assumes without blushing the most reactionary attitudes that not even Joseph de Maistre or the most entrenched Ultramontane would have dared to support.

These statements show that Fernández has ended up converting Pope Francis into a sort of oracle, a particular hypostasis of the Holy Spirit, whose word is authentic magisterium and, therefore, does not contain error and must be obeyed by all Catholics. And, consequently, it has also turned the Church into an institution that follows a Leader -- not Christ but the Pope of the moment, who has full power to mold it to his taste and whim. As our good friend Ludovicus said in 2013: "The Pope begins to configure himself as a leader, and Catholicism as the Pope's religion." I highly recommend reading that article [in Spanish here] which shows how the Roman pontificate of the last decades has been understood as a leadership of a "movement" on the basis of a program and a peculiar "charisma" provided by the name chosen by the Pope.

With ten years of anticipation, Ludovicus announced what happened and which Fernández has now expressed with clarity: Francis has charismatized the institutional to maximum and cannibalizing levels. If his is a "God who manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history", faith being "a faith a journey, a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths" -- all Francis' own phrases -- therefore, it is a God who chooses and blesses a leader in charge of making him present in the dynamics of history. The Church is no longer an institution; it is a movement, and its leader is a caudillo. How not to relate all this to the doctrine of Juan Perón!  

As I have said on other occasions, the best thing to do is to let Archbishop Fernández  speak and do. In his dicastery, it is said, they are waiting for him, knife and fork in hand. His empowered fatuity will cause him to make countless mistakes, which will certainly lead to victims, but which will be his passport to early retirement as soon as the next pontiff sits on the throne of Peter.