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Argentinian theologian Victor Manuel Fernández

KINGSTON, Ontario, September 1, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — It seems that the Pope’s Argentinian theologian Victor Manuel Fernández didn’t do his boss any favors when he recently defended Amoris Laetitia.

Fernández made headlines once again when he contributed an essay entitled “Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia: What Remains after the Storm” to a special edition of Latin American theology journal Medellín (Vol. 43, Num 168, 2017).

According to Convivium Editor-in-chief Father Raymond J. de Souza, Fernández gives the impression that the Holy Father wanted to remain “ambiguous and unclear” in Amoris Laetitia, “a document addressed to the entire Church” while reserving clarity for a private letter that was leaked to the press.

“This suggests a rather cavalier approach to the papal magisterium,” De Souza remarked.

Fernández, 55,  is widely believed to have ghostwritten Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia himself, thanks to marked similarities between passages in document and passages in two essays he wrote in 2005 and 2006. Vatican insider Sandro Magister maintains that these two publications, “practically in defense of situational ethics” against the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, became obstacles in Fernandez’ theological career path.

Nevertheless, the theologian was appointed Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in 2011 by Cardinal Bergoglio, then the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and named a titular archbishop by Pope Francis in May 2013. Fernández was an important participant at the Synod of the Family as its “vice president” and member of the commission charged with writing the final report. The Argentinian’s influence on Pope Francis is uncontested. De Souza suggests that Fernández does for Pope Francis what Cardinal Ratzinger did for Pope Saint John Paul II: set the “theological framework of his pontificate.”

Fernández claims that the Church’s moral and sacramental teachings remain unchanged by Amoris Laetitia, wrote De Souza. The pope’s theologian agrees that it is always objectively wrong to have sex outside of marriage, especially so when one partner is married to someone else, as is the case with those who are divorced and civilly remarried when their first spouse still lives. “One’s own conscience, Archbishop Fernández insists, cannot make what is objectively wrong subjectively permissible,” De Souza reported.

However, Fernández wanders off into territory that does not directly concern Amoris Laetitia. For example, he repeats the uncontroversial and long-established principle that a person may not be subjectively capable of a gravely sinful act through ignorance. De Souza points out that this does not apply to those divorced-and-remarried couples discussed in Amoris Laetitia because, according to the apostolic exhortation, “the persons in question must know and ‘love the Church’s teaching’” on marriage.

Even more confusing, Fernández declares that Francis’ great innovation is “to allow for a pastoral discernment in the realm of the internal forum to have practical consequences in the manner of applying the discipline.”

“It remains unclear what exactly this means,” stated De Souza. “… Archbishop Fernández offers a possibility that looks something like this: A couple knows that their lifestyle is gravely sinful objectively. They desire to bring their life into conformity with the Gospel. But for the time being, they decide that they must continue to have sexual relations, and for this decision they are not subjectively culpable of grave sin. Therefore, they are able to participate in the sacraments.”

De Souza doubts that the majority of the divorced-and-remarried fit into this category, and observes that this thinking still appears to be at odds with the papal magisterium as found in

Familiaris Consortio (1981), Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984) and Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) and Veritatis Splendor (1993).

But what troubles De Souza in particular is Fernández’s suggestion that Francis put the most delicate and controversial material in Chapter 8  in a footnote [351] — ”in a discreet way” — so as not to distract readers from the rest of the document. According to Fernández, Francis’ authoritative interpretation of Chapter 8 is found in his private letter of September 9, 2016, to the bishops of Buenos Aires.

“Certainly Archbishop Fernández was not implying that the Holy Father was trying to sneak something past the Church, which is absurd on the face of it,” wrote De Souza. “But his own analysis presents a rather cavalier approach to the magisterium: that difficult topics can be somehow passed over without the proper treatment they deserve.”

“And so another question emerges from the Amoris Laetitia confusion,” De Souza concluded. “Why would Archbishop Fernández think it helpful to Pope Francis to characterize his exercise of the magisterium in this way?”

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.