On July 1, hours after Pope Francis named Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández the new prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine for the Faith, Reuters published an article on the appointment entitled “Pope names Argentine bishop, author of kissing book, to top Vatican post.”
Heal Me with Your Mouth was published when Fernández was thirty-three, a decade after his ordination to the diaconate and nine years after his ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of Río Cuarto in Argentina. Stating that “this book was not written so much from my own experience, but from the life of the people who kiss,” Fernández wrote that he hoped that the book’s pages would “help you kiss better, that they motivate you to set free the best of your being in a kiss” (p. 9). In the pages that followed, Fernández made manifold statements about kissing and offered theological reflections on kissing.
Of greater interest than Archbishop Fernández’s theological reflections on kissing is the future prefect’s foray, atypical for a cleric, into erotic poetry. Heal Me with Your Mouth includes four of Fernández’s own poems, two of them signed “Víctor M. Fernández,” and two of them signed “Tucho” (Fernández’s nickname). Five unsigned poems, which may or may not be Fernández’s, also appear in the book.
In 1960, fourteen years after his priestly ordination, the future Pope St. John Paul II wrote The Jeweler’s Shop, a three-act play on marriage — also an atypical literary foray for a prelate. That play surely merited the attention of journalists, scholars, and the faithful alike upon Karol Wojtyła’s subsequent election to the papacy.
Fernández’s erotic poems merit similar attention today, in view of his appointment as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and elevation to the College of Cardinals. They deserve a close and attentive reading.
Fernández’s erotic poems: intended audience
Since his appointment as prefect for the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal-designate Fernández has defended Heal Me with Your Mouth — and by extension, the erotic poems he included in the book — and offered important information about the work’s intended audience.
“I was trying to reach the young people,” he recalled in a July 3 Facebook post. “Then it occurred to me to write a catechesis for them based on what the kiss signifies. I wrote this catechesis with the participation of a group of young people who gave me ideas, phrases, poems, etc.”
Two paragraphs later in his Facebook post, Archbishop Fernández referred to Heal Me with Your Mouth as “a catechesis for a youth group” (or “for a group of young people,” para un grupo juvenil) and as “a catechesis of a parish priest for novios from a youth group.” (Novios is an ambiguous term that comprises sweethearts, boyfriends and girlfriends, engaged couples, and newly married couples.)
Later, in an interview given for a July 17 Associated Press article, Cardinal-designate Fernández described Heal Me with Your Mouth as a “small youth catechism” (pequeño catecismo juvenil) and as “written in the manner of catechesis for adolescents” (catequesis para adolescentes).
Fernández has thus made clear that he published his erotic poems nor for a general adult readership, but as part of what he describes as a “youth catechism” for specific young people in his parish.
“As a youth, Víctor Manuel Fernández dreamed of being a poet, but life led him to work as a parish priest in a small Argentine locality where three decades ago he dedicated time to reflecting on kisses and the sensations they awaken,” the Associated Press article began.
From 1993 to 2000, Father Fernández, while holding various diocesan positions, was the first parish priest of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús (Facebook, Instagram), a former chapel that Bishop Ramón Staffolani raised to the dignity of a parish. It is located in Río Cuarto, the diocesan see, in Argentina’s Córdoba Province. Far from being una pequeña localidad (“a small locality”), as the Associated Press reported, Río Cuarto is a city of over 150,000 with a university.
To help understand the intended audience of his erotic poems, it is helpful to turn to Google Maps and explore his parish and the area that surrounds it, even if the city has changed since Father Fernández’s pastorate. Within a block of the parish of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús, one finds today an ice cream shop, a tire store, a paint store, and a liquor store. As one reads Cardinal-designate Fernández’s erotic poems, it is helpful to imagine specific young people, specific adolescents: people like the daughter of an ice cream shop owner, the son of a tire store salesman, the daughter of a janitor at a paint store, and the son of a worker at a liquor store.
Cardinal-designate Fernández’s statements about his intended readership shed light on other parts of the text as well.
For example, when Fernández wrote that he hoped that the book’s pages “help you kiss better, that they motivate you to set free the best of your being in a kiss” (p. 9), the “you” (te) he was addressing was not an unknown adult reader, but any of a number of young persons he knew in his parish.
When Fernández asserted that “a couple with much sex, much sexual satisfaction, but few kisses as a group, or with kisses that say nothing, are digging, with each sexual union, the tomb of love” (p. 21), he was not addressing an adult audience of readers, but young people he was catechizing.
And when Fernández wrote that “many prostitutes give themselves over to all type(s) of sexual games, but do not allow themselves to be kissed by anyone” (p. 55), he was passing along his knowledge not to a general readership, but to a specific group of young people he knew.
In the Associated Press article, Cardinal-designate Fernández appeared to modify his July 3 statement on Facebook that “I wrote this catechesis with the participation of a group of young people who gave me ideas, phrases, poems, etc.”
In the July 17 article, Cardinal-designate Fernández’s role was diminished from author (“I wrote this catechesis”) to redactor. The Associated Press reported that Heal Me with Your Mouth “was written in the manner of catechesis for adolescents, with the contributions that his young collaborators provided him, and the religious [i.e., Fernández] said that he improved ‘the expressions’ by contributing ‘a tiny bit of redaction.’”
If that is the case, then Fernández’s statements in his short youth catechism about the sexual satisfaction of couples and the sexual games of prostitutes may not have been written by him, but by the adolescents he was catechizing — young people like the daughter of an ice cream shop owner and the son of a tire store salesman. If that is the case, then Fernández simply made stylistic improvements, and cosmetic ones at that, to the young authors’ choice of words.
Fernández’s erotic poems: literary context
Fernández’s erotic poems appear in “Qué dicen los poetas” (“What the poets say”), the fourth section of Sáname con tu boca.
At the beginning of that section, Fernández quoted and commented upon poems about kissing by the classical Roman poet Catullus, the nineteenth-century Spanish author Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the twentieth-century Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, the twentieth-century Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and the now-deceased Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, who was alive when Fernández published his work.
“In order to continue motivating your kisses, I give you a few pieces of different poems, by various authors,” Father Fernández wrote next for the youth of his parish. “They all spoke about the kiss as if there were no more beautiful way to sing to love” (p. 37). Fernández then included selections of poems by
- María Monvel, a twentieth-century Chilean poet
- Mila Oyarzún, a twentieth-century Chilean poet
- Ben Suhayd (i.e., Ibn Shuhayd), an 11th-century Spanish-Arab poet
- Marwan Ben Abd [i.e., the Umayyad prince Marwán ibn Abderrahman (d. 1009)]
- J. Dicenta (i.e., Joaquín Dicenta), a Spanish journalist and poet who wrote at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries
- the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío, a contemporary of Dicenta
- M. Ugarte (i.e., Manuel Ugarte), a twentieth-century Argentine writer
- R. Pérez de Ayala (i.e, Ramón Pérez de Ayala), a twentieth-century Spanish writer
- Delmira Agustini, an early twentieth-century Uruguayan writer
- J. Carrera (i.e., Jorge Carrera Andrade), a twentieth-century Ecuadorian poet
- Homero Aridjis, a contemporary Mexican poet
- Víctor M. Fernández (i.e., himself)
- Tomás Segovia, a now-deceased Mexican poet who was alive when Fernández published Heal Me with Your Mouth
Even while acknowledging the possibility that Fernández was relying on inaccurate or alternative editions of the authors’ poems, one can assert with confidence that Fernández did not always quote these poets accurately. While many of Fernández’s changes were minor and can be attributed to carelessness, at other times Fernández showed a surprising lack of respect for the integrity of the texts, repeatedly splicing together sections of different lines and even different parts of poems to form new lines, and going so far as to alter the poets’ words.
For example, Fernández, in quoting Delmira Agustini’s “Otra Estirpe” [from her 1913 work Los cálices vacíos (The Empty Chalices)], appears to have altered the original text in several places (cf. p. 39). Agustini invoked Eros, the blind Father (“Eros yo quiero guiarte, Padre ciego”). Fernández, however, quoted Agustini as invoking the God of love (“Dios del amor”) — a phrase that appears nowhere in Agustini’s text and makes the Uruguayan poet sound like a priest praying at Mass.
In striving to “continue motivating” the kisses of the adolescents of the parish of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús by quoting poets who “spoke about the kiss as if there were no more beautiful way to sing to love,” Fernández manifested an interest in suggestive and even prurient poems. As he compiled his short youth catechism, the future prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith selected excerpts from Monvel’s “En un cuarto de hotel” (“In a Hotel Room”), Marwán’s “La hermosa en la orgía” (“The Beautiful Woman in the Orgy”), Dicenta’s “Lujuria” (“Lust”), and Aridjis’s Perséfone (Persephone), a poem set in “a raucous brothel, where customers and prostitutes alike crazily paw and grab one another and copulate in frenzy” (review in Publishers Weekly).
The Bruja (Witch) Poem
In this context, Fernández’s first erotic poem appeared (p. 40). At least two translations of this poem have already been published (1, 2); here is another. (The three dots in the third stanza — as in subsequent poems — are not an ellipsis that signifies the omission of text; rather, they appeared in Fernández’s original text.)
do not realize it.
Your lips murder.
And your eyes, distracted,
do not notice,
the eyes, wandering,
that are detained
before the divine flesh
of your mouth.
And you, pensive, pass
with that open mouth
while the crazy ones, the delirious,
Come down, dear,
before I wake you
all of a sudden —
some desperate man
with a terrible hickey.
How was God
as to give you that mouth. . .
It is impossible to resist,
hide it (Víctor M. Fernández).
In this poem, the poet Víctor M. Fernández contemplates the mouth and lips of a woman with whom he has been in the throes of passion: indeed, she has given him a “terrible hickey” before she fell asleep.
The woman is “clueless” — in the sense of distracted or confused, Fernández tells us — about her own lips’ power. Her eyes look elsewhere, perhaps as she drifts off to sleep. But he is awake, and he longs for her to be awake again.
Some words are ambiguous. Who, or what, are the “crazy ones” in the first stanza? Are they her delirious eyes, which crazily do not fix upon her own lips? Or are they crazy men, who are too delirious to notice her beauty?
In the last stanza, Fernández addresses the woman as a bruja, whose meaning has been a point of controversy: the word typically means “witch, sorceress,” but can also mean “b—-.” The online English translation rendered bruja as the latter; Fernández insisted he had been mistranslated.
The Roman poet Catullus, whom Fernández quoted earlier in Heal Me with Your Mouth, repeatedly showed both infatuation and contempt toward Lesbia, the pseudonym of the woman with whom he was having an affair. An erotic poet who followed in Catullus’ footsteps could well have intended bruja to mean “b—-.”
But the word’s context in the poem strongly supports Fernández’s contention that he was simply addressing the woman as a witch. Far from being contemptuous toward her, Fernández is besotten, and he sees himself as powerless in the face of the spell she has cast over him.
As Adam, after he ate of the forbidden fruit, blamed God for giving him Eve to be his companion, so Fernández blames God for creating the mouth that he finds impossible to resist. Indeed, the priest-poet calls God despiadado — merciless, ruthless, cutthroat, pitiless, cold-blooded, savage — for doing so.
The Juego Peligroso (Dangerous Game) Poem
Having selected writings from thirteen poets, including himself, who could “continue motivating your kisses” and who “all spoke about the kiss as if there were no more beautiful way to sing to love,” the future prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith then sounded a different tone.
“But I invite you also to read stanzas where it seems that a kiss is a font of sorrow,” he continued, as he addressed the young people he was catechizing in his parish. “When it feels that a kiss is not the reflection of a love strong, sincere, respectful, and sound; when the other takes ownership of us without pity. Then, the kiss is converted into a hidden martyrdom or into the worst lie. Therefore, even if it is lived as a necessity, or as a psychological unloading, it is not a true affective satisfaction” (p. 41).
In this context, Fernández chose selections of poems from four twentieth-century poets: the Spanish poet Vicente Aleixandre, the Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou, J. Gil de Biedma (i.e, the Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma), Víctor M. Fernández (i.e., himself), and Tucho (i.e., himself). Two of them (Aleixandre and Gil de Biedma) are known for their homoerotic verses.
It makes an impression on me,
this deceitful mix
of love and disappointment,
of desire and refusal,
of hope and of fear.
And also this dream
that I do not desire to fulfill.
To wish with all one’s soul
and to discover all of a sudden
that now I do not desire so much,
that now I am not able
to bear the burden
of an immense passion,
that infinite risk,
that deadly leap,
the dangerous game
that begins on your lips
who knows… (Víctor M. Fernández).
In this poem, the poet Víctor M. Fernández describes his experience of a mixture of love and disappointment, desire and rejection, hope and fear — and this mixture makes an impression on him. At first, one wonders: is he describing his own tangled emotions, or the emotions of the woman in the poem, or both?
Because the mix is “deceitful,” one suspects that he feels deceived by the woman’s emotions, rather than by his own. Perhaps the refusal is hers, even if the love, disappointment, desire, hope, and fear are his. Perhaps, on the other hand, he wishes to reject her, and he finds himself surprised and deceived by the storm of emotions in his own soul. (But if he wishes to reject her, why does he also experience hope and fear — presumably the hope that she will love him in return, and the fear that she will not?)
In the second stanza, Fernández explains that he has desired the woman with all his soul and then suddenly no longer desires her so much. He no longer can bear the weight of the immense passion that begins on her lips. On the woman’s lips, an infinite risk, a deadly leap, a dangerous game all begin.
Fernández helps his readers interpret this poem by telling us that the poem is among five in which “it seems that a kiss is a font of sorrow,” “when the other takes ownership of us without pity. Then, the kiss is converted into a hidden martyrdom or into the worst lie. Therefore, even if it is lived as a necessity, or as a psychological unloading, it is not a true affective satisfaction.”
The infinite risk, the deadly leap, the dangerous game, it seems, is that if Fernández succumbs to the “necessity” of kissing her despite his wavering desire, she will take ownership of him. He will become a hidden martyr, his spirit crushed by an immense passion. As in the earlier bruja poem, Fernández confesses that he is almost powerless before the woman’s lips.
Fernández thought highly enough of this poem to republish it seven years later, with an additional stanza, in ¿Por qué no termino de sanarme? (Why Don’t I Finish Healing Myself?, 2002, p. 13); in that work, he entitled the poem “Amor sin rumbo” (“Love without Direction”).
Neither Heal Me with Your Mouth nor ¿Por qué no termino de sanarme? was included in the Holy See Press Office’s list of the prefect’s works.
The Loba (She-Wolf) Poem
You ask me
what happens to my skin
when I look at you,
and to my lips,
which tremble like crazy men.
Above all, love happens to my lips,
which do not quiet down,
which do not calm down —
The dread of touching you
with my mouth,
and to feel that I die.
Because it is terrible,
to become weak again
in a sacred kiss,
knowing that it is over,
that it ends,
that it is not eternal–
that blessed relief,
that one’s lukewarm craziness
Therefore, you should not ask
what is happening to my mouth.
Kill me once and for all
with the next kiss,
drain me of blood, completely,
give me back peace
without pity (Tucho).
In this poem, Tucho addresses a loba: a word that means she-wolf, fox (attractive woman), b—-, slut, or prostitute, much as lupa, the Latin word from which it is derived, means prostitute when it refers to a woman. Philologist Carmen Fernández Martín of the University of Cádiz notes that loba also “refers to a woman devouring a man, i.e. a man-eater, exactly as a wolf does with a lamb” (“Comparing Sexist Expressions in English and Spanish,” ES: Revista de filología inglesa, 2011, p. 82).
Earlier in Heal Me with Your Mouth, Fernández quoted from Catullus’ fifth poem. The loba poem evokes two other poems that the Roman poet wrote about kissing: the “you ask” at the beginning of Tucho’s poem recalls the beginning of Catullus 7, and the loba at the conclusion of the poem recalls the lupa of Catullus 99. In view of Fernández’s literary knowledge, these similarities could have been conscious or unconscious.
Whether the loba is a “man-eater,” a prostitute, or another meaning of the word, Tucho has touched her previously with his mouth. She looks at him, and he looks at her; she sees his skin and lips trembling, and she asks him what is happening (or “what is the matter”).
What is happening, what is the matter, is that Tucho is overcome by love and fear: a love that he describes as suffocating, a fear that he will die if he touches her again with his mouth. He explains that “it is terrible, crazy, to become weak again in a sacred kiss,” when he knows that the liaison is temporary and that the kiss merely provides “blessed relief” from the tibia locura — the lukewarm craziness (or indifferent madness) — that he truly senses towards her.
Why, the reader wonders, does the priest-poet invest his encounter with the she-wolf in sacral language? Why does he describe the act of kissing the she-wolf as sagrado, sacred? Why does he describe the inner relief that follows as bendito, blessed?
Fernández appears just as powerless in the presence of the she-wolf in this poem as was in the presence of the bruja and the woman in his preceding poems. But then the third stanza takes an unexpected and violent turn: “Drain me of blood, completely, / she-wolf, / give me back peace / without pity.”
It is as if Tucho wishes to become the victim of a bloody sacrifice, a lamb pitilessly slain by the she-wolf. If Tucho is the sacrificial victim, then the loba is the sacrificial priestess; and his intention in offering himself to her as her sacrificial victim is not atonement or reconciliation, but the regaining of his own inner peace.
Fernández has already told his readers that the poem is among five poems in which “it seems that a kiss is a font of sorrow,” “when the other takes ownership of us without pity. Then, the kiss is converted into a hidden martyrdom or into the worst lie. Therefore, even if it is lived as a necessity, or as a psychological unloading, it is not a true affective satisfaction.”
Even if Tucho has achieved peace by becoming a sacrifice, the young people of the parish of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús for whom he published this poem could thus understand that the kiss of Tucho and the she-wolf, even though “sacred,” and the relief that followed, even though “blessed,” do not constitute “true affective satisfaction.”
The Misterio Infinito en tu Piel (Infinite Mystery in Your Skin) Poem
Following the loba poem, Fernández wrote a sentence fragment: “Though we are not able to stop saying that the kiss always makes us vulnerable” (p. 45) — apparently to qualify what he has earlier said about certain kisses being a font of sorrow. He added, “Because in order to be authentic, the kiss demands a commitment to the other and a risk; it is much more than a contact of the flesh.”
I seek the simple consolation
of this light breeze.
In it, I have faith,
I trust in its caress.
There are no treacheries, nor deceit.
It aspires to nothing.
It only encounters
and it is enough.
Before it, I am able
to expose myself completely,
to fling myself, secure,
and to let it pass over me.
But it does not have what your lips give me.
That pleasant fragrance,
the infinite mystery
which hides in your skin.
That abyss which I fear —
but that flame,
and that trembling
which I hope for… (Tucho).
In contrast to the “commitment to the other” and the “risk” involved in the act of kissing the woman in this poem, Tucho feels secure in the gentle presence of a light breeze and seeks “simple consolation” from it. He has faith in the breeze, he trusts in its caress, and he finds satisfaction as it meets his skin.
The breeze, he tells us, has “no treacheries, nor deceit” — presumably unlike the woman. The breeze “aspires to nothing” — again, presumably unlike the woman. He feels he can expose himself completely to the breeze, throw or fling himself at the breeze, and let it pass over him.
In his encounter with the breeze, Tucho finds the consolation for which he longs: “it is enough … nothing more.” There is no commitment, no risk.
And yet, Tucho tells the woman, the breeze does not have what her lips can give him. Nor does the breeze have the fragrance that the woman’s skin has. Turning again to sacral language — indeed, using language theologians reserve for God Himself — the priest-poet speaks to the woman about the “infinite mystery” in her skin.
The act of kissing the woman carries a “risk”: Tucho fears an abyss, but hopes for flame and trembling. The flame for which he hopes is presumably the flame of passion; the trembling for which he hopes recalls the trembling of his lips in the first stanza of the loba poem.
What is the abyss that he fears, but is willing to risk for the sake of the flame and the trembling? The abyss is surely not hell. Is it perhaps the utter loss of control to which he has alluded in the other poems?
In this poem, as in his previous poems, the priest-poet, absorbed in his own emotions, is remarkably unconcerned about the woman’s hopes, concerns, fears, and desires. Fernández’s eros is an eros without agape, an eros bereft of caritas.
Unsigned Poems and Artwork
In addition to the other material in his short youth catechism for young people in his parish, Fernández included five poems that he attributed to no one.
The poems appear on pages 13-14, 25, 27, 54, and 78 of Sáname con tu boca and begin with the words “En un puro presente,” “No te detengas más,” “Tu boco canta,” “Este llamado interior,” and “Despacito, no te apures.” In the online English translation, these poems begin with the words “In a pure present,” “Don’t hold back,” “Your mouth sings,” “This inner calling,” and “Slowly, don’t rush.”
The first of these poems is almost identical to the final six lines of Viviana Degano’s undated “Ante Vos, Este Presente.” “En un puro presente” thus presents a literary mystery:
- Did Fernández quote from Degano’s work with her permission, and simply fail to acknowledge her as the author?
- Did Fernández commit plagiarism and quote Degano’s work without her permission?
- On the other hand, was Fernández, and not Degano, the original author of the work? If so, did Delgano expand upon Fernández’s text with or without his permission?
There is no similar evidence that “Don’t hold back,” “Your mouth sings,” “This inner calling,” and “Slowly, don’t rush” were written by others.
The evidence for Fernández’s authorship is perhaps strongest in the case of “Your mouth sings” (“Tu boca canta”). He republished the poem in expanded form in ¿Por qué no termino de sanarme? (2002, p. 36). There, he gave the poem the title “Beso” (“Kiss”). Far from being a matter of passing interest to Fernández in 1995, kissing continued to be of concern to the theologian into the twenty-first century.
The majority of the images in Sáname con tu boca are photographs of statues. Fernández appears to be particularly fond of a statue of Cupid and Psyche: twenty of the photographs are headshots of Cupid and Psyche kissing, and another two are photographs that include more of the statue. The statue appears to be L’Amour et Psyché à demi couchée (1787-93) by the Neoclassical Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.
Sáname con tu boca also includes images of statues of nude couples making love (pp. 10, 18), a black-and-white image of The Kiss (1907-08) by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, an odd cartoon image (p. 53), and images of babies kissing, children kissing, young lovers kissing, rabbits kissing, and Pope St. John Paul II kissing a baby. Readers with knowledge of the provenance of the statues of the nude couples making love are invited to share their knowledge in the comments section.
Pope Francis has entrusted the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by its prefect, with the crucial task of helping “the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world by promoting and safeguarding the integrity of Catholic teaching on faith and morals” (Praedicate Evangelium, Art. 69). Reporting to the prefect, and subordinate to him, are the staff of the dicastery’s doctrinal section and the disciplinary section, the latter of which addresses the sexual abuse of minors and other serious canonical crimes committed by clerics. In his July 1 letter to Archbishop Fernández, Pope Francis wrote that the disciplinary section is composed of “very competent professionals.”
Members of the faithful who wish to gain a sense of how Cardinal-designate Fernández will address doctrinal questions have only to explore his prolific writings, from the works included in the list of the prefect’s works published by the Holy See Press Office, to works such as Sáname con tu boca and ¿Por qué no termino de sanarme? that were omitted from the list.
Members of the faithful who wish to gain a sense of how Cardinal-designate Fernández will address the sexual abuse of minors have only to consider how he addressed abuse allegations against Father Eduardo Lorenzo when Fernández was archbishop of La Plata (Argentina).
In a letter published by El Día in February 2019, Archbishop Fernández questioned the motives of parents and others who raised concerns about Father Lorenzo, a priest who had been accused of sexual abuse in 2008. The local prosecutor had determined at the time that there was insufficient evidence to press charges against the priest; still, parents raised concerns a decade later about Fernández’s decision to transfer Lorenzo to a parish with a school.
In July 2019, Archbishop Fernández learned of two new abuse allegations against Father Lorenzo; one man, Julian Bartoli, offered public testimony. 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.
Juan Pablo Gallego, the attorney for the victims, recently told the Associated Press that Archbishop Fernández “worked quickly” to “interfere in the judicial investigation” into the allegations against Lorenzo, who committed suicide in December 2019.
Looking back on how he addressed the allegations, Cardinal-designate Fernández appeared to admit mistakes in a July 9 interview with the Associated Press, but clarified in a July 17 interview with The Pillar that “I did not admit ‘errors,’ because I followed the procedures that were in force at that time, and always in consultation with the dicastery. What I admitted is having acted ‘insufficiently.’” (It is hard to imagine the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith directed Archbishop Fernández to question the motives of parishioners concerned about sexual abuse.)
While Cardinal-designate Fernández’s published works and the manner in which he handled abuse allegations against Father Lorenzo offer insight into how the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith might address doctrinal and disciplinary concerns under Fernández’s leadership, his erotic poems have additional implications.
For the past two decades, parish volunteers in many places have received regular, and even monthly, in-person and virtual training designed to help prevent the sexual abuse of minors.
As part of this formation, thousands of volunteers have been trained to become alert to certain warning signs, including the sharing of certain materials and the content of certain conversations with young people–red flags that would make parish volunteers feel duty bound to report a priest to the bishop or another diocesan official, even absent any suspicion that the priest has committed sexual abuse.
If a parish priest published erotic poems for the youth he was catechizing, discussed the sexual games of prostitutes with the parish’s adolescents, incorporated into his youth catechesis photographs of statues of nude couples making love, or published a small youth catechism for the purpose of helping his young parishioners become better kissers, thousands of volunteers would sense that something was amiss and would feel duty bound to report the priest to his bishop.
With the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors now part of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (Praedicate Evangelium, Art. 78), Archbishop Fernández’s work as the dicastery’s prefect and his elevation to the College of Cardinals suggest that nothing is really amiss with these actions, and thus call such abuse-prevention training into question.
If it is acceptable for the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to publish his own erotic poems as part of catechesis for young people at the parish of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús in Río Cuarto, Argentina, why should any of the world’s other 407,000 priests feel constrained from doing so?
If a prelate’s forthright admission that he published his erotic poems as catechesis for his parish’s adolescents is not a barrier to elevation to the College of Cardinals, why should any priest face the slightest correction from his bishop for similar actions?
The appointment of Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is thus an important moment in the history of the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of minors. Whether members of the College of Cardinals and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors react with silent acquiescence or with principled concern to what Fernández describes as his “short youth catechism” will be a matter of interest to the faithful in the weeks and months ahead, and to historians in the years and decades to come.
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