By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis has named Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, his longtime personal theologian and ghostwriter, to lead the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Argentine prelate succeeds Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, 79, who has been prefect of the dicastery since 2017.
Fernández, almost 61, will take up his new post in the middle of September, the Vatican said. The prolific writer has been archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, since 2018.
“As the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, I entrust to you a task that I consider very valuable,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to Fernández, published July 1 with the announcement of his appointment.
The pope said the dicastery at times has promoted pursuing “doctrinal errors” over “promoting theological knowledge.”
“What I expect from you is certainly something very different,” Francis said. “I ask you as prefect to dedicate your personal commitment in a more direct way to the main purpose of the dicastery, which is ‘guarding the faith.’”
Fernández posted a photo of himself with Pope Francis on Twitter on June 30, the day before the announcement of his appointment as doctrine prefect.
He said he spent the week with the pope and called it “the new stage for Francis.”
“He works more hours than anyone else in the Vatican,” the archbishop wrote in Spanish. “Here he is seen tired after five hours with dense stuff, but after a siesta he was perfect and happy.”
Fernández is a controversial figure in the Church in Argentina, in part because of some of his past publications. The theologian has published more than 300 articles and books.
Pope Francis, who has known Fernández for decades, reportedly entrusted him with drafting his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, a text in which the archbishop cited his own prior scholarship as a source document.
The archbishop was also reputedly involved in the drafting of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, which followed the Church’s two synods on the family.
Fernández was heavily involved in both synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 and was on the commission for the writing of the 2015 synod’s final report.
Quoting his apostolic exhortations Evangelii Gaudium and Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis wrote that Fernández’s task as the new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office “should express that the Church ‘encourages the charism of theologians and their theological research efforts’ as long as ‘they are not content with a desk theology,’ with ‘a cold, hard logic that seeks to dominate everything.’ It will always be true that reality is superior to the idea.”
Fernández was born in 1962 in the small rural town of Alcira, in the Province of Córdoba. He was ordained a priest in August 1986 in Río Cuarto, a mostly rural diocese. In 1988 he obtained a degree in theology with a biblical specialization at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and then obtained a doctorate in theology at the UCA in 1990. He was pastor of Santa Teresita in Río Cuarto (Córdoba) from 1993 to 2000 and was founder and director of the Jesús Buen Pastor Lay Formation Institute and Teacher Training Center in the same city.
In the early 1990s he moved to Buenos Aires, where he was appointed a consultor to several commissions within the Argentinean bishops’ conference and the Latin American Bishops Council (CELAM).
Having shown a great capacity for writing, Fernández was brought by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as an expert to the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, held in 2007 at the Brazilian Marian shrine of Aparecida.
Aparecida, many sources have claimed, solidified the relationship between the future pope and the theologian.
From 2008 to 2009 he was dean of the faculty of theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and president of the Argentine Theological Society.
On Dec. 15, 2009, Cardinal Bergoglio appointed Fernández as rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. However, Fernández was not able to take the oath of office until May 20, 2011, after he had answered objections to his appointment raised by Vatican officials who expressed concerns about the orthodoxy of certain elements of his scholarship.
An avid writer, by the time Fernández was chosen by Bergoglio as the UCA rector, he had written hundreds of articles and books, including, “Incarnated Spiritual Theology” (2004), a book that was featured in the Argentinean soap opera “Esperanza Mía,” about an illicit love affair between a priest and a nun.
The book commonly regarded as his most unusual is the 1995 work “Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.” Regarding the book, Fernández explained that “in these pages I want to synthesize the popular feeling, what people feel when they think of a kiss, what they experience when they kiss … So, trying to synthesize the immense richness of life, these pages emerged in favor of kissing. I hope that they help you kiss better, that they motivate you to release the best of yourself in a kiss.”
The book has disappeared from most official lists of Fernández’s works.
Pope Francis appointed Fernández the titular Archbishop of Tiburnia on May 13, 2013, thus making him the first rector of UCA to become an archbishop.