Saturday, September 30, 2023

Abuse survivors demand resignation of “totally inappropriate” Fernández

On Friday the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) advocacy groups issued a joint statement calling on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), and to rescind his elevation as cardinal, over past mishandling of abuse allegations.

Fernández received his red hat from Pope Francis today. 

In their statement SNAP and ECA said that in their view, by tapping Fernández to lead the DDF, “Pope Francis demonstrates not only poor judgment, but also gross disrespect to Catholic victims around the world.”

“Among the responsibilities of the DDF is the handling of sexual abuse accusations brought against clergy. In fact, this responsibility constitutes 80 percent of its work. Yet earlier this year, Archbishop Fernández admitted that he made ‘mistakes’ in handling a 2019 case of a priest accused of sexually abusing children,” the statement said.

For this reason, “we too urgently call for Pope Francis to replace the Archbishop on the DDF, and to reconsider his selection as Cardinal,” the groups said.

Fernández, a papal ghostwriter and ally who only recently stepped into his role at the DDF, was appointed to the post in July and was named a cardinal shortly afterwards.

Part of the DDF’s work is to handle cases of clerical sexual abuse, with an entire section dedicated to processing allegations against priests and hierarchs.

Within days of his appointment as head of the DDF, Fernández wrote on social media that when it comes to clerical abuse, “I do not feel prepared nor trained for these issues,” and that he had only accepted the job because the pope assured him that his primary task would be theology, and that clergy abuse would be left to the disciplinary department tasked with handling those cases.

Fernández also admitted to having made mistakes in handling previous cases, having allegedly refused to believe allegations by minors against Eduardo Lorenzo, a priest in the Archdiocese of La Plata, initially keeping him in ministry. 

At the end of 2019, hours after learning that an Argentine judge had ordered his arrest for the alleged sexual abuse of five children, Lorenzo was found dead in what was ruled a suicide.

Concerns immediately after his appointment were flagged by the Bishop Accountability advocacy group. Calling Fernández a “totally inappropriate fit” for the DDF, they said “the Catholic Church is still tone-deaf on the issue of clergy sexual abuse.”

“As we see it, the long and terrible history of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up is still being written. By appointing Archbishop Fernández to the DDF and naming him a cardinal, Pope Francis clearly demonstrates that it is business as usual in the Catholic Church,” they said.

Concern for the victims of clerical abuse, “who have long borne the consequences of unconscionable decisions made at the highest levels, still have no place in the decision-making process,” the statement said, insisting that “until this changes, the clergy sex abuse scandal will continue, and more young lives will be forever blighted.”