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Archbishop Fernández, new DDF prefect, admits mistakes in handling abuse allegations

July 11, 2023

Cardinal-designate Víctor Manuel Fernández, the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Associated Press on July 9 that he “did not act in the best way” in addressing abuse allegations against a diocesan priest in 2019—even as the prelate offered excuses for his decisions.

In July 2019, Archbishop Fernández learned of two new abuse allegations against Father Eduardo Lorenzo, a parish priest and prison chaplain who had been investigated for an abuse allegation over a decade earlier. Despite the new allegations, Archbishop Fernández permitted Father Lorenzo to remain as pastor of his parish for an additional four months, until November 2019, when the priest took a leave of absence, according to a timeline of the case published by BishopAccountability.org, which hosts the largest public collection of information on the clergy abuse crisis. In December 2019, Father Lorenzo committed suicide.

“With everything I say it is clear that I did not act in the best way,” Archbishop Fernández told the Associated Press. “I was waiting to see how justice acted, what the prosecutor did, what objective elements came to us.”

Archbishop Fernández also attributed his actions, which he described as “insufficient,” to his inexperience as a diocesan bishop, as well as to a purported lack of procedural clarity in how to address allegations of sexual abuse against minors.

“Today I would certainly act very differently and certainly my performance was insufficient,” he said.

Installed as Archbishop of La Plata in June 2018, Archbishop Fernández said he was “without any experience in another diocese.” He also claimed that “Church procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse committed by clerics ‘were less clear’ at that time,” according to the Associated Press.

“I cannot say that I have committed a crime or something against what was established at that time, but that I could have been a much better father, much better pastor and much more efficient,” he added. “That, of course, I recognize.”

Archbishop Fernández’s “claims of ignorance are not credible,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org. “He declares himself bewildered, but he is a sophisticated and educated man.”

She added, “If Archbishop Fernández finally regretted his handling of this case, why did he never reach out to Lorenzo’s victims?”

As prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal-designate Fernández is responsible for addressing the sexual abuse of minors by clerics: since 2001, the Congregation (now Dicastery) has been entrusted with adjudicating canonical cases involving serious canonical crimes committed by clerics. In February 2022, Pope Francis reorganized the Congregation into a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section, with the latter handling canonical crimes—a division formalized the following month in the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium.

Archbishop Fernández “said he had spoken to the Pope about the criticism received about Lorenzo’s case and was told: ‘You explain reality as it was,’“ the Associated Press reported.

Shortly after Archbishop Fernández’s appointment as prefect on July 1, BishopAccountability.org warned that Archbishop Fernández has a “troubling record” in addressing the sexual abuse of minors. The new prefect rejected the organization’s criticism and insisted that “in principle they” [victims] were “always believed” during his five years as archbishop of La Plata (Argentina).

However, Archbishop Fernández, in a letter published by the La Plata-based El Dia in February 2019, questioned the motives of parents and others who raised concerns about Father Lorenzo, who had been accused of abuse in 2008. (The local prosecutor had determined at the time that there was insufficient evidence to press charges against Father Lorenzo; still, parents raised concerns a decade later about the priest’s appointment as pastor of a parish with a school.)

“I don’t know how they managed to make the presence of this theme so constant in the media,” Archbishop Fernández, referring to those who raised concerns, wrote in his February 2019 letter to Father Lorenzo. “It is completely understandable that some parents have been troubled if they were told that a supposedly dangerous being—which is certainly not your case—came to their school ... But one wonders what other objectives are being pursued—some—by the people who mobilized this.”

“I apologize if I made a mistake in exposing you to this time of public pain and humiliation,” Archbishop Fernández added in his letter to Father Lorenzo, who was also a prison chaplain and confessor to the imprisoned Father Julio César Grassi.

Following his appointment as prefect, Archbishop Fernández revealed in a Facebook post that he originally declined the appointment because he feels unqualified to address abuse cases. “The task [of prefect] includes the issue of child abuse, and I do not feel prepared nor trained for these issues,” he said.

“I do not feel qualified or trained to guide something like this,” he added in another post.

In a July 1 letter, Pope Francis assured Archbishop Fernández that “very competent professionals” within the dicastery’s disciplinary section could address the sexual abuse of minors, with Archbishop Fernández focusing on matters related to Catholic doctrine.

 


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  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 11, 2023 10:23 AM ET USA

    “I was waiting to see how justice acted, what the prosecutor did...” A bishop must be able to recognize and stand for Catholic - Divine - principles of morality and justice for the poor above any civil - temporal - justice. E.g. Nicaraguan or Chinese "justice" notoriously persecutes the very best of bishops and priests. The same goes for gay "marriage" - states may legalize and promote it but every pope, cardinal, bishop, and priest must know and preach that it is not acceptable for Catholics.