Archbishop Fernández defends controversial book as ‘catechesis for teens’

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, pictured here in 2014, is the archbishop of La Plata, Argentina. He will take up his new post as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in September 2023. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández has responded to criticism from what he termed “anti-Francis groups” of a book he wrote as a priest in the mid-1990s called “Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.”

Writing on his personal Facebook page on July 3, Fernández said the book was written as “a pastor’s catechesis for teens” and “not a theology book.”

Pope Francis appointed Fernández, the archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The theologian will take up the Vatican post in September.

As Pope Francis’ newest Vatican appointment, Fernández has faced significant criticism, including over the 1995 work, which is no longer included in most official lists of the archbishop’s publications.

Fernández, who has over 10,000 followers on Facebook, said there are “anti-Francis groups that are outraged [at my appointment], and they get to use unethical means to harm me.”

Attacks against the 79-page book on kissing, the archbishop said, “come from Catholics in the United States” who do not know Spanish and mis-translate one of the text’s poems.

In the poem, the word “witch,” he said, has been mistakenly translated into English as “bitch.”

“In the end, they will continue to say a lot of things, and they will ally with whomever to attack Francis for nominating me. But those who know me closely know who I am. Thank you for the trust and love forever,” he said.

Fernández explained that the book in question was written by a very young pastor trying to reach the young, and that it “no longer exists.”

“I was inspired by a phrase from the time of the Church Fathers that said incarnation was like a kiss from God to humanity,” he wrote.

Fernández, who will turn 61 later this month, said people have been humiliating him for years with quotes from that book, which he stressed is not “a theology textbook.”

“I also have high-level books,” he said, later noting that the task of a theologian is not reduced to those kinds of texts.

“And I’m proud to have been that young pastor who was busy reaching out to everyone using the most diverse languages,” he continued, pointing out that in his resume published by the Vatican on Saturday, it said both that he was dean of the Faculty of Theology and a parishioner of Santa Teresita church.

“Because it’s important [to Pope Francis] that a theologian gets in the mud and tries to use simple language that reaches everyone,” he added.

The archbishop signed his post, “Tucho,” a nickname for Victor and how Fernández is commonly known in Argentina.

Fernández has also faced criticism from, 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 “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.

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A spokesman for the archbishop firmly denied the allegations in an email statement to CNA on July 3.

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