Eighteen years ago, a College of Cardinals largely appointed by the pope whose reign had just ended wanted continuity, and so they elected the man who’d been the intellectual architect of the previous administration. Thus it was that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, as the natural heir to the doctrinal and spiritual legacy of Pope John Paul II.

After yesterday, one has to ask: Is Pope Francis trying to align the stars for history to repeat itself by naming his own theological right hand, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, to the same post once held by Ratzinger as the Vatican’s doctrinal czar?…

If anything, the bond between Francis and Fernández, both Argentines, runs even deeper than that which linked the Polish John Paul and the German Ratzinger.

The connection goes back at least to 2007, when the future pontiff was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires and Fernández was a professor at the Catholic university in the Argentine capital. He acted as Bergoglio’s peritus, or theological advisor, during the conference of Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, which produced a document that proved to be a blueprint for Francis’s papacy.

A primary contributor to Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Fernández has been an informal advisor and sounding board for Francis on every important doctrinal question he’s faced.

Textual analysis in 2016, when Francis issued his controversial document Amoris Laetita opening the door to reception of communion by civilly divorced and remarried Catholics, showed striking similarities with articles Fernández had written on the same subject in 2005 and 2006.

Fernández went on to become one of the most prominent defenders of Amoris Laetitia, at one point arguing that critics citing Scripture to oppose the pope’s position were engaged in a “death trap” intended to force others to “assume a particular logic.”

During the ten years under Francis that German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, generally seen as a conservative, and then Spanish Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, perceived as more of a moderate, both headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, most observers regarded them as less influential than Fernández in shaping the pontiff’s own theological stances.

By now naming Fernández to the post, Francis essentially has brought a key member of his “kitchen cabinet” into his administration, giving him the formal powers that many observers believed he already wielded behind the scenes. It also sets up Fernández to be a major force in the pope’s looming Synods of Bishops on synodality, set for this October and October 2024.

It’s widely expected that Francis will also make Fernández a cardinal whenever he next holds a consistory….

From CruxNow

For more background, read Monday, July 3 posting, Pope Francis and the race to secure his legacy.