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Fernández, Rupnik, and not prioritizing the wounded
When it was announced that Archbishop Fernández is the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office that deals with the Church’s doctrinal questions), I was pretty excited.
It has been reported that Fernández was the ghostwriter for Evangelii Gaudium, Laudito Si, and Amoris Laetitia. I’m thrilled and hopeful the deeply traditional, practical, and kerygmatic theology in these documents will likely take center stage in the Church’s teaching documents for the foreseeable future.
Also, Pope Francis wrote a public letter to Fernández as a part of that announcement that further indicted the kerygmatic and practical direction that he wants the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) to take.
From the perspective of future doctrinal development, Fernández’s appointment is good news.
There was immediate backlash after this decision was announced. A lot of it, though certainly not all, from people who have been opposed to the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis for years.
A lot of the backlash congregated around a booklet that Fernández wrote in 1995 titled, Heal me with your mouth. The art of kissing. An inaccurately translated English version of the book was quickly circulated.
I quickly read the booklet (it’s very short). Parts were cringey. Parts were good. But it was difficult not to read the cringey parts as creepy or inappropriate after 21 years of revelations of clerical sex scandals.
Overall though, given the cultural differences of country and decade, I was pretty ambivalent about the kissing book. I don’t think it was any kind of significant black mark against him or his ability to teach doctrine.
Then yesterday, Fernández made a public statement on his Facebook page about the book. I found this statement to be much more concerning, and frustrating, than the book itself.
Now, I thought most of what he said in his post was true. All weekend I saw people (who still argue about the orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia as if that hasn't been long settled) share and reshare screenshots of a mistranslated poem in order to discredit Fernández and his theology.
It was what Fernández didn't say that was concerning, precisely because this statement was written in 2023, not 1995. And it was for the whole Church, not a local community in Argentina.
I wish he would have said something like: “I understand how this book comes across now after twenty years of revelations of clerical sexual misconduct throughout the Church. It's not longer in print and it would be inappropriate if a pastor were to publish it today.”
This would have acknowledged that while many people were using the book for ulterior motives, not everyone was. Some people were legitimately disturbed by it. By not saying that, he effectively judged anyone with concerns about this book as being critical of the pope.
By addressing those legitimate concerns, he also would have acknowledged, in some way, that clerical abuse and coverup has changed the Church's landscape since 2002, and that it's inappropriate for clerics to act as if it hasn't. By not acknowledging that, he presented himself as being either ignorant or apathetic to the long shadow of mistrust that the abuse scandals have cast across the Church.
Running parallel to the news about Fernández was the next chapter of the ongoing saga of Fr. Rupnik, the disgraced Jesuit priest who spiritual and sexually abused women who were under his spiritual care.
It was reported yesterday that “a meeting attended by some of the dicastery's top officials concluded that there was nothing to prevent the continued use of Rupnik's mosaics. They said the work should stand on its own merits and be dissociated from the personal life of the artist.”
While these stories are not directly connected, they both give me the impression that the Vatican still can't be trusted to prioritize those who have been harmed by priests.
It’s so wearying to exist in a Church whose sacraments and teachings I love, but who, at every level, continues to display a preferential option for the institution over a preferential option for those who have been harmed by clerics.