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John-Henry Westen and Maike Hickson

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One of Pope’s closest advisors: How Pope Francis is changing the Church

John-Henry Westen and Maike Hickson

June 4, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - On May 10, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with Argentinean Archbishop Victor Fernández, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, in which the archbishop reflected on Francis' plans to change the Church in ways that cannot be undone by future popes.

“The pope first filled St. Peter's square with crowds and then began changing the Church,” the archbishop said.

In answer to concerns that some of Francis' efforts appear to have stalled recently, Fernandez replied:

The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will turn everything back around. If you go slowly it's more difficult to turn things back… . You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible.

In addition to being one of the drafters of Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Fernandez was among the drafters of the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October, and is said to be currently involved in the drafting of the Pope's encyclical on questions concerning the environment. He previously worked together with then-Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina, and headed Cardinal Bergoglio’s team drafting the touchstone Latin-American bishops’ (CELAM) document of Aparecida in 2007.

When asked whether there is any truth to the criticism that the pope is isolated in the Vatican, he responded: “By no means. The people are with him [Pope Francis], and not with his adversaries.”

Speaking of those who are opposing the direction of Pope Francis, the archbishop singled out Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who serves as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Although he did not mention the cardinal by name, he made unmistakable references to recent remarks made by the cardinal in which he had said that Francis is more "pastoral" and less of a theologian than Pope Benedict, adding that the CDF’s role is to provide the “theological structure” for Pope Francis’ pontificate.

“When you hear such things it almost seems as if the pope were their representative, or was someone who came to cause trouble and needs to be controlled,” Fernandez complained.

Archbishop Fernandez has appeared to criticize Cardinal Mueller’s zeal as the Vatican’s head doctrinal watchdog in the past, in joking remarks about the Cardinal last year that caused chuckles in the Vatican press room. 

“No, there’s no turning back. If and when Francis is no longer pope, his legacy will remain strong,” the archbishop said in the May 10 interview. “For example, the pope is convinced that the things he’s already written or said cannot be condemned as an error. Therefore, in the future anyone can repeat those things without fear of being sanctioned.”

“And then the majority of the People of God with their special sense will not easily accept turning back on certain things,” he added.

Fernandez left little doubt as to his theological orientation when in an interview with La Nación on October 21 he spoke of the controversial paragraph in the final Synod document on homosexuality not getting support from a majority of the bishops.  “Probably there was a lack of will to say, with Pope Francis: 'Who are we to judge the gays?',” he said.

Asked if the pope was causing a schism within the Church, Fernandez responded:

No. There's a schism when a group of important people share the same sensibilities that reflect those of a vast section of society. Luther and Protestantism came about this way. But now the overwhelming majority of the people are with Francis and they love him. His opponents are weaker than what you think. Not pleasing everyone does not mean provoking a schism.

In spite of his denial of a larger opposition against some of Pope Francis' attempts to change the Church, Archbishop Fernandez admitted that if a Conclave were held today, the cardinals might not re-elect Pope Francis. He said, when asked about a possible re-election: “I don't know, possibly not. But it happened…. If some (cardinals) now have regrets it doesn’t change anything.”

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