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May 11 15 6:22 AM
'No turning back': Trusted theologian says Francis is stronger than adversaries inside the curia
The theologian widely acknowledged as the principle ghostwriter of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, says the Jesuit pontiff has already begun changing the Church in ways that cannot be reversed.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, said that, even if the pope’s adversaries tried to turn back the clock in the next pontificate, the People of God would not stand for it.
“The people are with (Francis) and not with his few adversaries,” he said in an exclusive published Sunday in the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera.
The 52-year-old Fernandez is one of the pope’s principle theological advisers. Francis, who had to fight Vatican opposition to name his fellow countryman university rector in 2009, appointed the theologian titular archbishop only two months after he became pope.
The archbishop said the 78-year-old Jesuit pope is patiently laying the groundwork for reforms that cannot be undone.
“No, there’s no turning back,” he told the paper’s highly respected political analyst, Massimo Franco.
“If and when Francis is no longer pope, his legacy will remain strong,” the archbishop said.
“For example, the pope is convinced that the things he’s already written or said cannot be condemned as an error. Therefore, in the future anyone can repeat those things without fear of being sanctioned,” he added.
Archbishop Fernandez is one of the leading theological aides to the pope, who last year was appointed to a special commission inside the Synod of Bishops.
Below is our English translation of the bulk of his interview in the May 10 edition of Corriere della Sera.
Archbishop Fernandez, in the two years since the pontificate began has resistance to the pope inside the Vatican increased or diminished?
“I don’t live in Rome and I can only talk about what I see when I go there. You have to make distinctions. I saw that some people in Rome were shocked at first, but now they understand the meaning of Francis is calling for and they’re happy to part of this path (he’s set out) for the Church, and they are helping the pope. Others tend to say: we’ll do what we can, go along with him as long as he’s here, because in the end he’s the pope. This group seems to be in the majority, even though I can’t confirm that. Others — really just a few — are, instead, going their own way. And from what one can see, they tend to ignore Francis’ teachings.”
Could you give us an example?
“I've read that some people say the Roman Curia is an essential part of the Church’s mission, or that a Vatican prefect is the sure compass that prevents the Church from falling into ‘light’ thought; or that this prefect ensures the unity of the faith and guarantees a serious theology for the pope. But Catholics, reading the Gospel, know that Christ assured special guidance and enlightenment for the pope and bishops all together, but not for a prefect or another structure. When you hear such things it almost seems as if the pope were their representative, or was someone who came to cause trouble and needs to be controlled.”
It doesn't seem like that's a line that's being followed, though.
“It’s not, because most of the People of God love Francis. Maybe the council of nine cardinals could help to better clarify how far the jurisdiction of the most import prefects extends. (An excellent ideas, so that certain prefects don't arrogate to themselves the power to develop a "theological structure" for a pontificate.) But the thing that worries me most is that theologians are not offering new analyses on the Church, the theological reasons for its structures, the jurisdiction of national and regional episcopal conferences and the proper place of the Roman Curia in relation to the pope and the College of Bishops.
Some say Francis is isolated. Do you think that's true?
“Not at all. The people are with him and not with his few adversaries. This pope first filled St. Peter’s Square with crowds and then began changing the Church. Above all, for this reason he is not isolated. The people sense in him the fragrance of the Gospel, the joy of the Spirit, the closeness of Christ and thus they feel the Church is like their home. But I would also say that he has a wide circle of people from whom he asks advice on various issues. He listens to more people than just those in the dicasteries of the curia, and in this way he is closer to the different voices in the Church and in society. (No gatekeeper, thank goodness, who will filter anything and everyone.) I’m referring to those people he receives at Casa Santa Marta, to the requests that arrive in letters, to the encounters in the squares. It’s exactly for this reason that today the Church is listened to more in the international debates and world leaders look at her with great respect.”
No doubt, and in a deep and clear way, especially at the beginning. And yet, more recently, there's a certain anxiety. Thing are proceeding more slowly. The reform of the curia seems to be stalled.
“The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will be turn everything back around. If you go slowly it’s more difficult to turn things back. He makes this clear when he says ‘time is greater than space.’”
When Francis says he will have a short pontificate doesn’t this help his adversaries?
“The pope must have his reasons, because he knows very well what he’s doing. He must have an objective that we don’t understand yet. You have to realize that he is aiming at a reform that is irreversible. If one day he should intuit that he’s running out of time and he doesn’t have enough time to do what the Spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.”
Would it be possible to have a pope without Vatican or away from the Vatican?
“The Roman Curia is not an essential structure. The pope could even go and live away from Rome, have a dicastery in Rome and another one in Bogota, and perhaps link-up by teleconference with liturgical experts that live in Germany. Gathered around the pope, in a theological sense, is the College of Bishops in order to serve the people.”
Aren't you worried that his pontificate will quickly be tossed aside after he’s no longer pope?
“No, there’s no turning back. If and when Francis is no longer pope, his legacy will remain strong. For example, the pope is convinced that the things he’s already written or said cannot be condemned as an error. Therefore, in the future anyone can repeat those things without fear of being sanctioned. And then the majority of the People of God with their special sense will not easily accept turning back on certain things.”
(True indeed, and it is time certain prefects and prelates realized this, instead of carrying on about how nothing will change after the October Synod.)Don't you see the risk of “two Churches”?
“No. There’s a schism when a group of important people share the same sensibilities that reflect those of a vast section of society. Luther and Protestantism came about that way. But now the overwhelming majority of the people are with Francis and they love him. His opponents are weaker than what you think. (Which would explain the increasingly strident statements being made in the media by certain cardinals - sensing, perhaps, that theirs is a precarious position.) Not pleasing everyone does not mean provoking a schism.”
Isn't this idea of the pope having a direct rapport with the people something risky, while the Church’s ecclesiastical class feels marginalized?
“But the Church is the People of God guided by their pastors. Cardinals could disappear, in the sense that they are not essential. The pope and the bishops are essential. Then again, it is impossible that everything a pope does and says will please everyone. Did everyone like Benedict XVI? Unity does not depend on unanimity.”
Do you think a conclave would re-elect Francis today?
“I don’t know, possibly not. But it happened, and everything one could image before or after the conclave is not important. The only thing that matters and that’s important is that the voting is done in the conclave, with the special assistance of the Spirit. We believe the Holy Spirit guides the conclave and you cannot contradict the Holy Spirit. If some (cardinals) now have regrets it doesn’t change anything.”
Do you think Francis could be forced to leave Casa Santa Marta for security reasons, because of a terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists?
“He doesn’t think like that. And I haven’t found any decisive arguments for that to happen. Then again, I think those that organize these big attacks have a certain intelligence and are able to distinguish between the United States of Bush and the Vatican. Certainly, there could be an isolated fanatic … No, I think Francis will remain at Casa Santa Marta, strong and with great confidence.
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