VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Victims of clerical sex abuse took to the streets of Rome on Thursday to protest against Pope Francis and demand that newly appointed Cardinal-designate Victor Manuel Fernández be removed from his charge of overseeing the Church’s response to sexual abuse.
Gathering in the shade of trees next to Rome’s historic Castel Sant’Angelo, a group of clerical sex abuse victims from 26 countries issued a call for Pope Francis to enact his much repeated “zero tolerance” policy of handling sex abuse cases.
“Archbishop Fernández is the last person that should be running the office that is in charge of all the cases of clergy rape and sexual abuse around the world,” said Peter Isley, a victim of sexual abuse and a founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA). “How do we know this? Well, you look at a person’s past record.”
“If Pope Francis had consulted the victims from Argentina, this man Fernández would never have been appointed,” Isley added.
Participants in the demonstration carried placards saying “Fernández must go” and others with an image of Pope Francis embracing Fernández, bearing the phrase: “They knew and they did nothing.”
A cross with the words “zero tolerance” emblazoned on the two branches of wood was borne aloft by the group as demonstrators made their way somewhat towards the Vatican.
With cries of “Zero tolerance” and “Fernandez must go,” clergy abuse survivors group @ENDCLERGYABUSE marches in front of the #Vatican to call on #PopeFrancis not to allow @Tuchofernandez to lead the CDF. pic.twitter.com/PHj8mbNG5q
— Michael Haynes 🇻🇦 (@MLJHaynes) September 28, 2023
Members of ECA are currently in Rome staging a number of protests against Pope Francis’ appointment of Fernández to lead the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF). Having recently assumed his new role on September 11, and due to be made cardinal on September 30, Fernández will be ultimately responsible for the handling of clerical sexual abuse cases across the globe.
In particular, Fernández’s record of handling the case of Father Eduardo Lorenzo has come under scrutiny. As LifeSite has reported, Fernández is accused of having “publicly defended” the influential priest in the wake of re-surfaced child sex abuse allegations dating to 2008.
Faced with allegations regarding Fr. Lorenzo, Fernández published a letter from Lorenzo on the archdiocesan website in which the priest denied the allegations as “slanders, insults and defamations.”
Fernández also firmly supported Lorenzo in public, defending his position to assign Lorenzo to a school after parents vocally protested. He wrote that it was “certainly not the case” that Lorenzo was a “dangerous being” and said that parental concerns “went from what could have been an understandable concern, to a crude battle to ridicule your figure.”
Lorenzo was only removed from his parish in October 2019 as the criminal case against him intensified, and after his arrest warrant was issued, Lorenzo committed suicide in December 2019.
A reported victim of Lorenzo’s was present at the demonstration, and on whose behalf a statement was made detailing the reported events of abuse.
ECA also highlighted Fernández’s dealings with the Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in La Plata, a case he inherited when he assumed control of the Archdiocese of La Plata.
At the school, over 24 children were reportedly sexually abused and tortured by school staff, and the school’s director, Father Nicola Corradi, S.M., was sentenced to 42 years in prison in 2019 for raping and sexually assaulting deaf children at a Provolo school in Mendoza.
ECA have additionally accused Pope Francis of personally contributing to the “cover-up of the crimes at the Provolo schools,” arguing that he knew of the abuse but took no action.
“No bishop who has covered up child sex crimes and ignored and dismissed victims of clergy abuse in his diocese should be running the office that oversees, investigates, and prosecutes clergy sex offenders from around the world, or be made a cardinal,” stated Julieta Añazco, a sex abuse victim from the Archdiocese of La Plata, which Fernández led from 2018 until his appointment to the DDF this summer.
ECA members are demanding that Fernández be removed from his position at the DDF and also removed as cardinal-designate.
“Archbishop Fernández has to go,” said Isley on behalf of the assembled clerical sex abuse victims.
Isley argued that if Fernández takes control of the Church’s handling of sexual abuse, then “the clergy abuse issue that we have all struggled so hard with is going to go back 25 years.”