Thursday, July 04, 2024

Cardinal Fernández's first year as head of Vatican doctrinal office

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One year ago, the arrival of Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández as the head of the Vatican doctrinal office was accompanied by a request from the Pope. 

In it, he asked the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to use a more pastoral spirit.

What this spirit consisted of became clear soon after: the Dicastery became much more public. It published answers to questions posed from bishops from around the world—from whether a transgender can be a Godparent to whether single mothers can receive communion. The Dicastery's new approach has generated some appreciation and some apprehension.

But the most controversial moment took place in December of 2023 when the Dicastery published the document Fiducia supplicans, which allowed for the pastoral blessing of couples in same-sex relationships and irregular situations—reversing what Pope Francis had said two years prior, which was a clear “no” to the blessing of same-sex couples.

Prefect, Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

It is a minor topic, but it was not explicitly dealt with in the magisterium, which has spoken very little about blessings. Even so, even if it is not a very important topic, it matters a lot to the Pope, it is in the pastoral heart of Francis.

The document has been one of the most controversial moves of Francis' pontificate. But despite backlash, he has remained firm in his decision.


The first is that these blessings, outside of any liturgical context and form, do not demand moral perfection in order to be received. The second is that when spontaneously approached by a couple to ask for such a blessing, the union is not being blessed but simply the people who together made the request.

Cardinal Fernández's first year has not been free of backlash and it did not only come to the surface after Fiducia supplicans. Shortly after his appointment, a book he published more than three decades ago, titled “Heal me with your mouth. The Art of Kissing” created scandal. And in January 2024, yet another old publication of the Cardinal was revealed—in this one, he wrote about the spirituality of orgasms. It was published in the late 1990s and Fernández says he would not write it today.

Over the past few months, the Vatican doctrinal office, led by Cardinal Fernández, has published two other documents. The first, Dignitas Infinita, reaffirms the Church's position on issues such as abortion and euthanasia and rejects gender ideology.

The most recent document of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith addresses alleged Marian apparitions or supernatural phenomena. Cardinal Fernández says that his department will not pronounce on whether apparitions are true or not. The only one who can point out whether the apparitions are real is the Pope.