Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez has done over 40 interviews since his appointment as prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) in July, and perhaps the two most interesting were released this week, in which the Cardinal-designate has officially taken over for Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who is retiring after six years in the role.
The first interview comes from an interesting source. Edward Pentin, Vatican correspondent for the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register, published an interview with Fernandez on Monday. Not at all known to be a journalist “friendly” to Pope Francis or to Fernandez, Pentin asked some very direct questions and received some frank answers from the new prefect. For example, when he was asked about the Magisterium of Pope Francis, he was very clear about the dangers of opposition to the teachings of the pope — namely, that they lead to heresy and schism:
You said in a July interview with Crux that you take Pope Francis’ words about accepting the recent magisterium very seriously and that the faithful should allow their thought “to be transfigured with his criteria,” particularly when it comes to moral and pastoral theology. What is the “recent magisterium” exactly? How does it differ from the non-recent magisterium, and what do you mean when you say “transfigured with his criteria” regarding moral and pastoral theology? Is it binding; and, as prefect, how will you deal with those in the Church, especially bishops and priests, who won’t subscribe to the Holy Father’s magisterium, as they might see it as contradicting established Church teaching?
When we speak of obedience to the magisterium, this is understood in at least two senses, which are inseparable and equally important. One is the more static sense, of a “deposit of faith,” which we must guard and preserve unscathed. But on the other hand, there is a particular charism for this safeguarding, a unique charism, which the Lord has given only to Peter and his successors.
In this case, we are not talking about a deposit, but about a living and active gift, which is at work in the person of the Holy Father. I do not have this charism, nor do you, nor does Cardinal Burke. Today only Pope Francis has it. Now, if you tell me that some bishops have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father, we will enter into a vicious circle (where anyone can claim to have the true doctrine) and that would be heresy and schism. Remember that heretics always think they know the true doctrine of the Church. Unfortunately, today, not only do some progressives fall into this error but also, paradoxically, do some traditionalist groups.
He was also asked about the German Synodal Way, and he pushed back against the implication that he was somehow associated with it:
What will be your approach to the German Synodal Way? To what extent do you think your openness to same-sex blessings and your expressed desire to foster a softer approach to heretical theologians or positions might help the German situation?The German Church has serious problems and obviously has to think about a new evangelization. On the other hand, today it does not have theologians on the level of those who were so impressive in the past. The risk of the Synodal Way lies in believing that by enabling some progressive novelties, the Church in Germany will flourish. This is not what Pope Francis — who emphasized a renewed missionary outreach focused on the proclamation of the Kerygma: the infinite love of God manifested in the Crucified and Risen Christ — would propose.
I don’t know why some of your colleagues identify me with the German way, which I still know little about. Look, my most famous book is called Los Cinco Minutos del Espíritu Santo (The Five Minutes of the Holy Spirit) and contains a daily meditation on the Holy Spirit that has sold 150,000 copies. Did you know that?
On the other hand, I was a parish priest, and I was also a diocesan bishop. Go and ask the faithful in my parish what I did when I was a parish priest, and you will see: Eucharistic adoration, catechism courses, Bible courses, home missions with Our Lady and a prayer to bless the home. I had 10 prayer groups and 130 young people.
The second interview was released Thursday morning and it was with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who also announced today that he was leaving his position as editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal based in Rome, to begin a new role as under-secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education (effective January 1, 2024). This interview was much longer and in-depth, and much of it is behind a paywall (and is well worth the cost of a one-month subscription), but lengthy excerpts were published in America as well. I found his discussion of Amoris Laetitia particularly clear and enlightening:
Along these lines is a new consideration of the weight of conditioning in discernment. In this regard Francis proposed to moral theology a very important step.
He did so by accepting the guidelines of the bishops of the Buenos Aires Region with respect to the application of Amoris Laetitia. They speak of the possibility of divorcees living a new union in continence, but add that “in other more complex circumstances, and when it has not been possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the option mentioned may in fact not be feasible.” They then state that “nevertheless, a path of discernment is equally possible. If one comes to recognize that, in an actual case, there are limits that mitigate responsibility and culpability, especially when a person considers that he or she would fail by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of accessing the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.” Francis immediately sent them a formal letter, confirming that this is the meaning of Chapter VIII of AL. He added, “There are no other interpretations.” There is no need to expect different answers from the pope. Both the guidelines and the pontiff’s letter have been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, along with a rescript declaring them part of the “authentic magisterium.” Consequently, there are no longer any doubts, and it is clear that discernment, which takes into account conditioning or mitigating factors, can also have consequences in sacramental discipline.
One of the major themes of Pope Francis’s pontificate is the importance of pastoral theology — that is, the application of moral and doctrinal principles to concrete situations. Fernandez shares this approach, as he articulates in the interview:
This helps us understand why a good theologian is always concerned for the good of the people he loves, and is capable of suffering for and with others.
I am convinced that today it is really wrong to think that an authentic and sound theology can spring from an individualistic, unengaged and apathetic well-being, distant from the commitment of charity. In this sense we can turn to John of the Cross: “The purest sorrow brings with it a more intimate and purer knowledge.” “One cannot come into the thicket of God’s riches and wisdom except by entering where sufferings are most numerous.” All this is obviously not possible without grace, and therefore the treatise on Grace should be considered central. Reflecting on Grace has been a great theological experience for me, which is why I have devoted several years to teaching the Grace treatise and writing a handbook on “Grace and Whole Life.”
I would be more interested in reading his work on Grace; I think God’s grace is a sometimes underappreciated and misunderstood aspect of the spiritual life. I truly look forward to his time as prefect.
Image: Vatican Media