“Amoris Laetitia” Has a Ghostwriter. His Name Is Víctor Manuel Fernández
Startling resemblances between the key passages of the exhortation by Pope Francis and two texts from ten years ago by his main adviser. A double synod for a solution that had already been written
by Sandro Magister
ROME, May 25, 2016 – They are the key paragraphs of the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” And they are also the most intentionally ambiguous, as proven by the multiple and contrasting interpretations and practical applications that they immediately received.
They are the paragraphs of chapter eight that in point of fact give the go-ahead for communion for the divorced and remarried.
That this is where Pope Francis would like to arrive is by now evident to all. And besides, he was already doing it when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But now it is being discovered that some key formulations of “Amoris Laetitia” also have an Argentine prehistory, based as they are on a pair of articles from 2005 and 2006 by Víctor Manuel Fernández, already back then and even more today a thinker of reference for Pope Francis and the ghostwriter of his major texts.
Further below some passages of “Amoris Laetitia” are compared with selections from those two articles by Fernández. The resemblance between the two is very strong.
But first it is helpful to get the broad picture.
During those years Fernández was professor of theology at the Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires.
And at that same university in 2004 an international theological conference was held on “Veritatis Splendor,” the encyclical of John Paul II on “certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine,” decisively critical of “situational” ethics, the permissive tendency already present among the Jesuits in the 17th century and today more widespread than ever in the Church.
Attention. “Veritatis Splendor” is not a minor encyclical. In March of 2014, in one of his rare and deeply pondered writings as pope emeritus, indicating the encyclicals out of the fourteen published by John Paul II that in his judgment are “most important for the Church,” Joseph Ratzinger cited four of these, with a few lines for each, but then he added a fifth, which was precisely “Veritatis Splendor,” to which he dedicated an entire page, calling it “of unchanged relevance” and concluding that “studying and assimilating this encyclical remains a great and important duty.”
In “Veritatis Splendor” the pope emeritus saw the restoration to Catholic morality of its metaphysical and Christological foundation, the only one capable of overcoming the pragmatic drift of current morality, “in which there no longer exists that which is truly evil and that which is truly good, but only that which, from the point of view of efficacy, is better or worse.”
So then, that 2004 conference in Buenos Aires, dedicated in particular to the theology of the family, moved in the same direction later examined by Ratzinger. And it was precisely in order to react to that conference that Fernández wrote the two articles cited here, practically in defense of situational ethics.
Partly on account of those two articles, the congregation for Catholic education blocked the candidacy of Fernández as rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina, only to have to give in later, in 2009, to then-archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who fought tooth and nail to clear the way for the promotion of his protege.
In 2013, just after he was elected pope, Bergoglio even bestowed episcopal ordination upon Fernández, with the title of the extinct metropolitan see of Teurnia. While he confined to the Vatican Apostolic Library the chief culprit of the rejection, Dominican theologian Jean-Louis Bruguès, without making him a cardinal, as instead is the tradition for all the librarians of the Holy Roman Church.
And since then Fernández has almost spent more time in Rome than in Buenos Aires, swamped as he is with acting as ghostwriter to his friend the pope, without any growth in the meantime of his credentials as a theologian, already anything but brilliant at the outset.
The first book, in fact, that revealed the genius of Fernández to the world, was: “Heal me with your mouth. The art of kissing,” published in 1995 in Argentina with this presentation to the reader, written by the author himself:
“Let me explain to you that I write this book not so much on the basis of my personal experience as on that of the life of people who kiss. In these pages I would like to summarize the popular sentiment, that which people feel when they think of a kiss, that which mortals feel when they kiss. This is why I spoke for a long time with many persons who have a great deal of experience in this matter, and also with many young people who are learning to kiss in their way. Moreover, I have consulted many books and I wanted to show how the poets speak of the kiss. In this way, with the intention of summarizing the immense richness of life have come these pages on behalf of the kiss, which I hope may help you to kiss better, urge you to liberate in a kiss the best of your being.”
While when it comes to the consideration that Fernández has of himself, there is enough in just one citation from an interview last year with “Corriere della Sera,” disdainful toward Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and therefore an advance reviewer – but unheeded for three years – of the drafts of the papal texts:
“I have read that some say that the Roman curia is an essential part of the Church’s mission, or that a prefect of the Vatican is the sure compass that keeps the Church from falling into ‘light’ thinking; or that the prefect ensures the unity of the faith and guarantees for the pope a serious theology. But Catholics, reading the Gospel, know that Christ has assured special guidance and illumination for the pope and at the same time for the bishops as a whole, but not for a prefect or for another structure. When one hears such things it almost seems as if the pope would be one of their representatives, or someone who has come to shake things up and must be controlled. [. . .] The pope is convinced that what he has already written or said cannot be punished as a mistake. Therefore, in the future all will be able to repeat those things without the fear of receiving sanctions.”
So this is the figure that Francis keeps close as his thinker of reference, the man who put down in writing large parts of “Evangelii Gaudium,” the program of the pontificate, of “Laudato Si’,” the encyclical on the environment, and finally of “Amoris Laetitia,” the post-synodal exhortation on the family.
And now for the passages of “Amoris Laetitia” in which can be seen the contours of formulations by Fernández from ten years ago.
Which it is helpful to read while keeping in mind what was said recently by Robert Spaemann, a great philosopher and theologian with whom Fernández cannot even be compared:
“The true problem is an influential style of moral theology, already present among the Jesuits in the 17th century, which upholds a merely situational ethics. John Paul II rejected situational ethics and condemned it in his encyclical ‘Veritatis Splendor.’ “Amoris Laetitia’ also breaks with this magisterial document.”