"Archbishop Fernandez worked quickly to somehow interfere in the judicial investigation"

Argentine archbishop close to Pope admits mistakes in handling case of priest accused of abuse

Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, chosen by Pope Francis to head a powerful Vatican office, admits he made mistakes in the way he handled the 2019 case of a priest accused of child sex abuse, which still brings him criticism for allegedly protecting the cleric.

Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, chosen by Pope Francis to head a powerful Vatican office, admitted Sunday that he made mistakes in the way he handled the 2019 case of a priest accused of child sex abuse, still drawing criticism for allegedly protecting the cleric.

"Today I would certainly act very differently and certainly my performance was insufficient.... I am absolutely clear about that; today I have more experience and I have other procedures," Fernandez told The Associated Press during an interview after celebrating Mass in the city of La Plata, about 70 kilometres south of Buenos Aires.

Pope Francis on July 1 appointed Fernandez to head the Holy See's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ensures doctrinal orthodoxy and one of whose areas is handling sexual abuse allegations brought against clergy, starting in September. The archbishop was also named a cardinal by Francis, along with about 20 other religious, the pope announced on Sunday.

BishopAccountability.org, a US-based organisation that maintains an online archive on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, recently questioned the archbishop's appointment to head the Dicastery by claiming Fernandez refused to believe the allegations of minors who accused Eduardo Lorenzo, a priest of the La Plata archdiocese, of abusing them.

In late 2019, hours after learning that an Argentine judge had ordered his arrest for the alleged sexual abuse of five children, Lorenzo was found dead on the premises of Caritas in La Plata, in what was considered a suicide, preventing the holding of an eventual trial to elucidate his responsibility.

In response to the US organisation's criticism, Fernandez told the AP in a statement days ago that he "never" said he did not believe the allegations and that he took steps to distance the priest from the alleged victims.

But on Sunday, during the interview, he was more self-critical of his actions, which he attributed to the fact that he arrived in 2018 to the Archbishopric of La Plata "without any experience in another diocese", and that at that time the procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse committed by clerics "were less clear".

Cathcon: This is an utter scandal just on its own. After decades of the abuse scandal, a senior cleric claims that he did not have the knowledge or experience to deal with the matter. The reality is that he considered that it should be dealt with in his own way. As he said of the way that he intends to proceed in the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith "I will respect the processes, I will dialogue, but I will do it in my own way."

The priest said that he let himself be guided by people who "also did not have the elements" that exist today to proceed, whom he did not identify.

"In recent years we have made enormous progress, there are protocols of the Holy See, of the Episcopal Conference, which were finalised not long ago, and which are much clearer. It allows us to make quicker and more appropriate decisions," said the archbishop.

Fernández said that if he had to correct anything, he would have "treated the victims more closely" and "taken measures a little earlier" to remove Lorenzo from his duties as a priest while the canonical case to investigate him ran parallel to the criminal justice process.

"I was waiting to see how the justice system would act, what the prosecutor would do, what objective elements would reach us," he said.

The allegations against Lorenzo began in 2008, when the godparents of a minor accused him of abuse, but the Argentinean justice system shelved the case on the grounds that there was insufficient incriminating evidence. Eleven years later, the lawyer Juan Pablo Gallego managed to get the criminal case reopened and began to represent other complainants while the canonical justice system conducted its investigations, while Fernández was Archbishop of La Plata.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, did not believe the archbishop's words.

"He professes to be puzzled, but he is a sophisticated and educated man. When he arrived in La Plata in 2018, the clergy sex abuse crisis had been front-page news for decades. His claims of ignorance are not credible," said Barrett Doyle.

The activist questioned why, after the scandal surrounding Lorenzo resurfaced, Fernandez left him in parish ministry for long months and "repeatedly" demonstrated his support for the priest.

"He abandoned his responsibility to the victim and deepened his suffering. ..... If Archbishop Fernandez finally repented of his handling of this case, why did he never reach out to Lorenzo's victims?" asked Barrett Doyle.

According to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Fernandez's reflection "is long overdue".

"I had to live with the fact that Archbishop Fernandez worked quickly to somehow interfere in the judicial investigation," said Gallego.

The lawyer indicated that the Interdiocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal of La Plata under the command of Fernández provided elements that sought to protect the accused priest, which is denied by the archbishop.

Fernández was also questioned for having provided protection for the priest in the Caritas facilities, for having shown himself with him in photographs on the Archbishop's website and for having celebrated a mass on his behalf after his suicide, in which he stated that the priest had been under great stress.

Fernandez said he had spoken to the Pope about the criticism he had received over Lorenzo's case. "He told me: 'you explain the reality as it was.'

On the other hand, with regard to the versions about the future functions he will have in the office of vigilance of doctrinal orthodoxy, the archbishop said that the Pope told him to dedicate himself to the doctrinal or theological section and to entrust the disciplinary section, which has specialised professionals, to deal with the abuse of minors.

He said he will make sure that the latter area "has everything it needs, the support, and the resources for its work".


Cathcon:  This is just one case of 11 that are known about.  No explanations so far, of any sort, on the other ten.  No transparency but plenty of Peronist manipulations of power.  And Tucho would be the first to complain about clericalism, when he is one of the greatest modernist clericalists of them all. 


Popular Posts