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A Successor for the St. Gallen Mafia?

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Above: Cardinal Martini, architect of the St. Gallen Mafia.

On April 8, 2024, Cardinal Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández sat for a press conference about his new document Dignitas Infinita.  He was the recently-appointed head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (D.D.F.)—entrusted by the pope with changing the office’s reputation for policing orthodoxy.    

“The Dicastery over which you will preside in other times came to use immoral methods,” said Pope Francis in a letter to Fernández. “Those were times when, rather than promoting theological knowledge, possible doctrinal errors were pursued. What I expect from you is certainly something very different.”

What Fernández has done for the D.D.F. is certainly something different.  At the press conference on Dignitas Infinita, Fernández defended the opening to blessings for same-sex couples in his text Fiducia Supplicans and dangled the possibility that Hell is “empty.” 

It was classic Fernández, pushing the boundaries. 

Fernández and Francis

In 1995, Fernández published the book Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.  About a decade later, according to Fernández’s The Francis Project, there was a time that was “very difficult” for him, when “some anonymous people sent critical comments to the Vatican” on three of his articles. 

Vaticanista Sandro Magister explains that Fernández in 2005 and 2006 wrote a pair of articles “practically in defense of situational ethics”—a lax moral attitude condemned in Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor.  The appointment of Fernández as rector of a Catholic university was subsequently blocked—until, Magister says, Cardinal Bergoglio “fought tooth and nail to clear the way for the promotion of his protégé.” 

Looking back on the experience in The Francis Project, Fernández confirmed that it was Bergoglio who encouraged him.  “We had a great spiritual conversation, in which he told me to keep my head up and not allow them to take away my dignity,” Fernández writes. 

In 2013, the newly-elected Pope Francis gave Fernández an episcopal ordination—and Fernández soon became the ghostwriter of key texts from the new pope. 

One of those texts was the 2016 papal document Amoris Laetitia, which created an opening for Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. 

The Problem of Hell

At one point, Amoris Laetitia declares: “No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” (297).  More than one commentator has warned that this passage and others could be construed as a denial of Hell, directly or in practice. 

As two noted theologians explain, since the 1960s more and more Catholic figures have taught that “only a few extremely wicked human beings will end up in Hell,” that God “very likely will find a way to save everyone,” or that some people will be “annihilated.”  The theologians go on to explain how Amoris Laetitia could be used to promote unorthodox positions on Hell—and how the notion of an empty or nearly empty Hell contradicts Scripture, definitive Church teachings, and the ordinary, universal magisterium.

Nevertheless, Fernández previously declared in a 1995 article: “I rely firmly upon the truth that all are saved.” 

In the press conference for Dignitas Infinita, Fernández was asked again about Hell. 

“If man has infinite dignity, how can he be condemned to the eternal suffering of Hell?” journalist Diane Montagna asked.  She was trying to clarify the implications of Dignitas Infinita’s towering opening declaration that man has “an infinite dignity.” 

Fernández answered: “Pope Francis has said many times that the affirmation of the possibility of condemnation to Hell is above all a kind of cult (veneration) of human freedom. …But then the question that Pope Francis asks is: ‘With all the limits that our freedom truly has, might it not be that Hell is empty?’”

A “Utopian Future”

Fernández’s recurring evisceration of traditional understandings of Hell provides an important context to Dignitas Infinita.  If Hell is empty, the emphasis is no longer on preparing for eternity, especially by observing the Sixth and Ninth Commandments.  The emphasis is, rather, on building what Evangelii Gaudium (also ghostwritten by Fernández) calls a “utopian future.” 

In Dignitas Infinita this earthly utopia, as Phil Lawler points out, is structured around the “seamless garment” approach, which lists a panoply of social justice issues without a clear focus on pre-eminent topics such as abortion.  So even though the new document does, for instance, condemn abortion, it talks more about poverty and the poor—implying a new hierarchy of values.

Ultimately, Fernández’s thought is very similar to that of the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the leader of the St. Gallen mafia—the group of high-ranking churchmen who plotted to move the Church in a more Liberal direction.  In Night Conversations, Martini emphasized fighting for social justice in the world without being too insistent on sexual matters or traditional pro-life topics.

“I hope that sooner or later God redeems everyone.  I am a great optimist,” Martini said in the book.  He was discussing how “nobody knows if anyone is in hell” and how it was “easier” to think that someone like Hitler was “simply extinguished.”

“The Church has talked a lot about sin, too much,” Martini added.  He thought it was better to fight against “sin in the world.”

It is unclear if Fernández, Francis’s longtime protégé, ever made the acquaintance of Martini.  But their positions sound eerily alike, as if Fernández is making Martini’s priorities for the Church come alive.    

The Problem of Modernism

Ultimately, Fernández’s boundary-pushing highlights the problem of Modernism. 

Put simply, Modernists want to change the Church by positing that doctrine can “evolve.”  To quote one of my pieces on Modernism:

To understand how this evolution works, take [Peter] Kwasniewski’s incisive treatment of the death penalty. Pope Francis believes that the death penalty is “inadmissible.” But if Francis means that it’s intrinsically evil, he’s directly contradicting, for instance, his papal predecessors. But ‘for a Modernist,’ Kwasniewski says, ‘the Church at a more primitive period of the development of human consciousness was right to promote the death penalty… but now in our stage of higher consciousness… we can see that the death penalty is wrong.’

According to Dignitas Infinita, the death penalty is indeed now totally wrong: it “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.” 

At the end of the day, even if this were the only problematic line in Dignitas Infinita, its implications would still be disastrous.  If doctrine can evolve in the case of the death penalty, it can evolve, eventually, with regard to anything. 

With Fernández at the helm of the Church’s doctrinal office, we live in a strange time in the Church.  Unfortunately, Fernandez’s record—his history of writing everything from shockingly graphic erotic texts to Amoris Laetitia—suggests that more lines will be crossed. 

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