Pope Francis’ rottweiler: Cardinal Fernández charts new, uncertain course for Vatican’s doctrinal office

By Christopher White, 4 July 2024
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the newly appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Image: Archdiocese of La Plata/Vatican News


When Pope Francis tapped Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández to head the Vatican’s doctrinal office on July 1, 2023, he wasn’t just naming his longtime Argentine theological adviser to one of the church’s most powerful roles. He was also reenvisioning how that department would operate in the modern world and attempting to ensure that his reforms might outlast his own papacy.

Accompanying the announcement of Fernández’s appointment in the Vatican’s daily bulletin was a letter articulating that as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, he should actively promote the work of theology and new ways of evangelization rather than replicating past “immoral methods” that sought to control or punish theologians.

“The text of the letter that the pope wrote to the new prefect is in some ways an epoch-making event,” Italian theologian Andrea Grillo told the National Catholic Reporter. “It marked the official beginning of a new understanding of the function of the dicastery, moving away from the inquisitorial and censorious styles of the past.”

One very busy year later, Fernández (or “Tucho,” as he is called) has not just become Francis’ closest curial collaborator, he also has emerged as a gatekeeper to the 87-year-old pope — and both men seem to be operating at a pace that indicates that they are well aware that time is not on their side.

While the Vatican’s doctrinal office — formerly known as “The Inquisition” — long held a reputation for enthusiastically suppressing heresies and restricting questionable theologians, Francis has used the Fernández appointment to chart a new direction for the church in the third millennium.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Christopher White, where this article originally appeared.


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