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Pope used Argentinian ‘ghostwriter’ for controversial document on the family, claims Vatican expert

Damian ThompsonDamian Thompson

Pope used Argentinian ‘ghostwriter’ for controversial document on the family, claims Vatican expert

The leading Vatican commentator Sandro Magister – a conservative Catholic detested by the Pope’s entourage – this morning published an article that will severely embarrass Francis as he tries to clear up confusion over the Church’s teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Magister, stripped of his Vatican accreditation last year after leaking a draft of the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, claims that Francis employed a ‘ghostwriter’ for key sections of Amoris Laetitia, his 200-page official response to last year’s Synod on the Family.

Magister provides chapter and verse – that is, side-by-side comparisons of Amoris Laetitia, published in April, and the writings of the Pope’s friend Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.

Here is a link to Magister’s post, which deserves to be read in full.

Fernández, made a bishop by Francis, is a not especially distinguished liberal theologian. It seems incredible that he should be the source of some of the most controversial passages in the Pope’s exhortation, those dealing indirectly with the question of whether the divorced and remarried can receive Holy Communion.

But Magister appears to have established that this is indeed the case. The following example is taken from today’s article. Please excuse the forest of citations and footnotes – they’re necessary so that Magister’s claims can be checked.

Amoris Laetitia: 301

As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”. Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues” [Footnote 342].

[Footnote 341: cf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 65, a. 3, ad 2; De malo, q. 2, a. 2].
[Footnote 342: Ibid., ad 3].

V. M. Fernández, “La dimensión trinitaria de la moral. II. Profundización del aspecto ético a la luz de ‘Deus caritas est’,” in “Teología” 43 no. 89, 2006, pp. 133-163. 2006: 156

Saint Thomas recognized that someone could have grace and charity, but without being able to exercise well one of the virtues “propter aliquas dispositiones contrarias” (ST I-II 65, 3, ad 2). This does not mean that he does not possess all the virtues, but rather that he cannot manifest clearly the existence of one of them because the external action of this virtue encounters difficulties from contrary dispositions: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues” (ibid., ad 3).

The phrase ‘cut and paste’ comes to mind.

More damaging than the above, however, are the following comparisons, in which the words correspond less closely – but which imply that, on the question of whether Catholics in an irregular second marriage are living in a state of mortal sin, Francis borrowed his thinking from Fernández.

Amoris Laetitia: 310

For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.

V. M. Fernández, “El sentido del carácter sacramental y la necesidad de la confirmación”, in “Teología” 42 no. 86, 2005, pp. 27-42.

Taking into account the influences that attenuate or eliminate imputability (cf. CCC 1735), there always exists the possibility that an objective situation of sin could coexist with the life of sanctifying grace.

Amoris Laetitia: 301

More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values” [Footnote 339: John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” (22 November 1981), 33: AAS 74 (1982), 121], or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.

Fernández 2006 (see above): 159

When the historical subject does not find himself in subjective conditions to act differently or to understand “the values inherent in the norm” (cf. FC 33c), or when “a sincere commitment to a certain norm may not lead immediately to verify the observance of said norm” [Footnote 45].

[Footnote 45: B. Kiely, “La ‘Veritatis splendor’ y la moralidad personal”, in G. Del Pozo Abejon (ed.), “Comentarios a la ‘Veritatis splendor’,” Madrid, 1994, p. 737].

Again, apologies for the dense prose. Some quick thoughts from me:

• Vatican sources claim that Archbishop Fernández has been boasting that he wrote parts of Amoris Laetitia. If so, they don’t appear to be empty boasts.

• Francis’s document is said to have been carefully scrutinised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before publication. The Prefect of the CDF is Cardinal Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who isn’t a fan of Fernández. Did someone – the name of an Argentinian pontiff comes to mind – intervene to ensure that Fernández’s arguments prevailed in Amoris Laetitia?

• Archbishop Fernández enjoys no great reputation as a theologian; in conservative circles he is regarded as a joke figure. How come? Magister, clearly relishing the opportunity, offers us a clue:

The first book 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.”

He certainly knows how to make toes curl, does the Rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.

• Aren’t Popes supposed to write their own major documents? Or, at least, be intimately familiar with their contents? When Francis was asked about the much-debated footnote 351, which – depending on how you read it – may allow some divorced and remarried people to receive Communion, he said:

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I don’t remember the footnote, but for sure if it’s something general in a footnote it’s because I spoke about it, I think, in ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’

Can you imagine Benedict XVI saying that in any context? No, me neither. But I’d be surprised if Víctor Manuel Fernández couldn’t recite by heart all the most controversial passages in Amoris Laetitia, because on the basis of Magister’s analysis he took part in writing them.

Whether the Pope got round to reading them closely is another question.

Damian Thompson


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