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Archbishop Fernández didn’t side with alleged sex abuser, archdiocese says

The Cathedral of La Plata in Argentina is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 3, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

A spokesperson for Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Vatican’s newly appointed head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to accusations that he has been soft on sex abusers by firmly denying the allegations.

In an email to CNA late Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of La Plata, Argentina, said that “the archbishop never expressed that he did not believe them [the victims], beyond what some blogs that issue free opinions may have said.”

“When asked by the journalists, the archbishop clearly responded that ‘when someone presents an accusation of this type, in principle, THEY ARE ALWAYS BELIEVED, but beyond that, an investigation and due process are necessary because the legislation itself establishes it,’” the spokesperson wrote.

Fernández, who turns 61 later this month, has served as the archbishop of La Plata since 2018.

As Pope Francis’ newest Vatican appointment, Fernández has faced significant criticism, including from BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based group that tracks sexual abuse by clergy.

In a statement written by the group’s co-director Anne Barrett Doyle, the group said that “Fernández’s recent handling of a clergy sex abuse case in his home archdiocese of La Plata raises great concern.”

According to Doyle, Fernández “publicly defended” and supported La Plata priest Father Eduardo Lorenzo in the face of five sex abuse allegations in 2019. Doyle said that Fernandez continued to stand by Lorenzo even after an arrest warrant was issued and the priest committed suicide.

On Monday, Doyle told CNA that Fernández’s “handling of that case causes me great concern.”

“He kept the priest in parish ministry, even as more and more victims came forward,” Doyle said. “He showed a reckless willingness to gamble with the safety of children. He showed contempt for the alleged victims. If his response to this case is representative of his attitude toward allegations, he will do tremendous harm as prefect of the [Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith].”

The archdiocesan representative categorically denied Doyle’s accusation on Monday.

“As new testimonies appeared, the archbishop was taking new measures, beginning by prohibiting him from all activities with minors until confining him in a Caritas department,” the spokesperson wrote. “At the beginning it was only a matter of reopening a criminal and canonical investigation that had been closed years before. Subsequently, other new testimonies appeared and new measures were taken before them.”

According to the statement, the archdiocese has done well in responding to clergy abuse cases.

“In recent years in this same archdiocese a priest, Sidders, was imprisoned (after six months in common prison he is now on preventive house arrest while awaiting trial) and another was expelled from the priesthood (Yannuzzi, founder of the Institute Miles Christi),” the spokesperson said. “In all these cases, the corresponding steps were followed as established at that time, and always in consultation with the Holy See in the correspondence that is preserved.”

The spokesperson added that “with respect to what some notes say about the functions that the archbishop will have in the dicastery, he asked me to indicate that the popes letter addressed to Mons. Fernández asks him to entrust matters referring to child abuse to the section discipline that has specialized professionals and that he dedicates himself rather to the doctrinal or theological section that needs development.”

Fernández is expected to assume his new duties at the Vatican in September.

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