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“A Month Ago I Said to the Pope That I Didn’t Accept” the Appointment: Public Letter of the New Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith

The new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed a letter to the community of the Archdiocese of La Plata. Thanks to that letter, we are able to know more details about how his appointment came about as well as his initial answer to Pope Francis. The Archbishop acknowledges his incompetence in the disciplinary ambit of the treatment of abuses of minors and stresses that it was he who asked the Pope to give him in writing the competencies that he personally and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith would have to have henceforth. Finally, he mentions the date of his farewell to the Archdiocese. 

Here is the full text of the letter.

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Dear Community of Our Archdiocese of La Plata

I have spent five beautiful years with you. I have seen the beating of the Holy Spirit’s presence in many moments we shared  and in many of your initiatives. Truly I came to feel myself one more of you and to enjoy the city in my afternoon walks. Sometimes I even walked around Berisso and Ensenada and felt the pleasure of being Pastor in these lands. I have suffered with the poor’s anguishes and enjoyed sharing their joys. 

Sometimes, perhaps, I’ve bothered you with my insistence, but it all stemmed from my desire to make our Archdiocese more beautiful. We have had some hard moments but afterwards we see we have learned something from it all, and we have emerged enriched from any harshness, because God works like this. 

Now Pope Francis has surprised me with this appointment. I confess to you that for a month I was anxious, because I didn’t feel like leaving. I can tell you that a few months ago I had a large window opened in a part of the house where I live, to be able to have a wider vision and I said: “now I have everything, I can live 15 more years here happily.”

On the other hand, the famous Dicastery that the Pope is entrusting to me has a section dedicated to the abuses of minors, a subject that hurts and shames us, and I don’t feel able nor have I had the formation to be able to handle something like this. Hence, a month ago I said to the Pope that I didn’t accept. I did so with all my soul’s pain, because he is now elderly and needs trustworthy people near him. He is one of the great ones and, hence, I’m very grateful for all the good I’ve received from him. But I said no to him and remained with that thorn. 

Days ago, when he was hospitalized, he asked me again. How could I say no? But he made things easier for me because he said that it was not necessary from me to handle the issues referring to the abuses of minors, because there is a team of specialists that do it very well and that can work in quite an autonomous way. And that what he needed was a Prefect who could dedicate more time to what is implied in the Dicastery’s name: “the Doctrine of the Faith,” namely, that Christian thought be promoted, that there be a deepening in the truths of the faith, and that there be the study of important subjects in dialogue with the world and with the sciences. And this is a task that delights me, for which I do feel capable as a fish in water. 

In past times this Dicastery was called the “Holy Office,” and it was the terror of many, because it was dedicated to denounce errors, to persecute heretics, to control everything, even torturing and killing. It was not all like this, but this is part of the truth. Francis wrote me that the best way to take care of the Doctrine of the Faith is to have our understanding of it grow, because “this harmonious growth will preserve the Christian Doctrine more effectively than any control mechanism, especially if we are able to present God as the One who loves, frees, and raises, which promotes people. 

Finally, he promised to accompany my appointment with a letter that would make all this clear, and that he was giving a lot of thought to the content of that letter, which would be very important for the future. It’s the lovely note he sent me and that many already consider a memorable text. 

Therefore, in the end I said yes. 

I ask you to accompany me in this mission with your prayer, given that not all will be in agreement with this new orientation that Francis gives, and I don’t trust my abilities but the certainty that the Holy Spirit will guide me. 

Once I said yes to him, Francis asked me last week to go see a small house that he chose for me to live in, inside the Vatican, with a small terrace and view to a garden. He said to me: “Because you come from Rio Cuarto, from the countryside, and you all need a wide view, to look at green.” In fact, if I open the window and see only buildings I feel locked up. But I tell you this so that you see Francis’ sensibility and exquisite charity.

I’ll continue in La Plata until early August and then, no doubt, the Pope will appoint an Administrator until there is a new Archbishop, which will undoubtedly be soon. But I don’t want to leave without bidding you farewell and without giving you my heartfelt blessing. Hence, A few days after, I’ll travel to Rome to be able to start in September my task with everything in order. 

Thank you all for what you do, each one building in his own way the Kingdom of God. May the Lord pre, where I was able to feel the taste of spiritual fatherhood. 

+ Victor Manuel Fernández