The story surrounding the somewhat controversial papal advisor and ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, continues. As we had reported, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, in the June 2016 issue of Herder Korrespondenz, recently refuted as being potentially heretical Fernández’ 2015 claim that the pope himself could very well reside also in places other than Rome. This story was then also reported on by Dr. Sandro Magister in Italy and by Guiseppe Nardi in Germany.
Yesterday, 13 June, Archbishop Fernández came back with a reply, by giving an interview to La Stampa‘s journalist and papal friend, Andrea Tornielli. In his indirect response to Cardinal Müller’s critique, the archbishop from Argentina now claims that he only meant to say that the pope may well reside “outside the Vatican.” This is a seeming novelty which may further add to the confusion. He states that the pope needs to be “the pastor of a local church” in order to be adequately manifesting himself as the “supreme pastor of the Church.” Since, according to Fernández, Saint Peter had resided in Rome, it is that same local Church that is now the pope’s Church. However, adds the archbishop, he admittedly cannot theologically explain the reasons as to why the pope has to reside in Rome, but, rather, he can mainly refer to the “historical reality.” Backing off from his earlier statements, Fernández concludes: “So, I did not mean to belittle in any way the bond that exists from the beginning of the Christian history between Peter and his successors in Rome.”
Adding further confusion, Fernández then reflects upon the possibility that the pope might as well reside outside of the Vatican itself, but still “in the Diocese of Rome.” He then says: “But this is a useless and bizarre speculation.”
Importantly, Fernández also discusses the idea of the decentralization of the Catholic Church and explicitly says that one could consider “to give more power to the Bishops’ Conferences, including some doctrinal authority.” [emphasis added] He adds: “Progress is very slow – not because the pope has not encouraged it, but because the theologians and pastors themselves do not dare react with generous creativity.” [emphasis added]
The archbishop then explained that the pope’s intention – as expressed in Amoris Laetitia – is to give more scope to the local bishops to deal with moral questions “in dialogue with the pope.” Fernández still insists that the Church has to become “more merciful, more transformed by the primacy of love and also closer to the reality of the people.” He also repeated that there is a “pastoral door” opened with regard to the divorced and “remarried.”
At the end of his interview, Archbishop Fernández concludes his reflections with the idea that the decentralization – which was the topic of a 2015 seminar organized by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J. – could also lead to having several of the Curial components themselves distributed to other locations, even “anywhere else in the world.” He concretely mentions here The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Academy for Life, among others, that could be potentially and even usefully located in other places outside of Rome. It seems that such comments lead to a further destabilization of Rome as a coherent center of the Church’s authority and operations.
In this context, a clarifying note may be helpful to the reader: In his deeper discussions about Church history and theology with my husband over the years, Father John Hardon, S.J., (with the citation of other experts as well) expressed his strong belief and conviction that one part of “Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition” (as distinct from “Divinely Revealed Sacred Scripture”) is that Saint Peter was directed to go to Rome as the final destination, after leaving Antioch, where he first had locally established his Seat of Authority (Sedes Auctoritatis). All the other times when the popes have been in exile, as in Avignon or during the captivity of the papacy under Napoleon, there were very grave divisions and dangers for the Church, as St. Catherine of Siena so eloquently expressed. Of course, in times of emergency, the pope might have to go outside of Rome, perhaps in the End Times.
However, in the presentation of Archbishop Fernández, no such distinctions were made, and he showed no perceptible reverence about the matter. Rather, he has been off-handed and flippant in his comemnts, as if he believes that one could diffuse incoherently, all over the world, the Church herself — and with it, the papal authority and the pope’s supportive apparatus of the Curia.
Even though the Argentinian refers back to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and seems to defer to it at the end of his interview, he nonetheless seems especially interested in promoting what he persistently calls a “healthy decentralization of the Church.” It is to be hoped that Cardinal Müller’s recent words on this matter will help the archbishop’s own further reflections and activities.