LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) — Three decades ago, when he was a pastor in Argentina, the man named by Pope Francis As the new custodian of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal orthodoxy, he wrote a short book on kisses and the sensations they evoke.
Some conservative sections of the church use the reflections in Heal Me with Your Mouth. The Art of Kissing” criticized Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández’s appointment to head the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, a body once known as the Holy Office and dedicated for centuries to persecuting heretics, disciplining dissidents and enforcing sexual morality was responsible.
“These are ultra-conservative sectors that deeply hate the Argentine Pope (Francis),” Fernández, the archbishop of La Plata, a city 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press.
“You take a sentence from the book and you say, ‘Look at the level of this theologian.’ How can someone who uses these expressions be the prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith?’” said Fernández, who dreamed of becoming a poet when he was young.
The 80-page book, published in 1995 but no longer in print, has emerged as a key point in condemning the appointment of the 60-year-old archbishop, commonly known as “Tucho,” to one of the Vatican’s most powerful offices .
The book highlights the importance of kissing in human relationships and defines it as an expression of absolute love. “In English ‘kiss’, in Italian ‘bacio’, in French ‘baiser’, in German ‘kuss’, in Portuguese ‘beijo’.” ‘, called ‘drilling’, etc.,” the book says.
An article published earlier this month in the Catholic news agency Zenit said: “Everyone is talking about Monsignor Víctor Manuel Fernández… and especially his kisses.”
Criticism of the archbishop, whose appointment was viewed by some as an attempt to break with the past, has come from conservative religious figures in the United States.
“Pray that he returns to the Catholic faith,” Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, Texas, wrote on social media.
Fernández, who has long had a close relationship with the Pope, a fellow Argentine, said he turned down later offers to reprint the book.
“I was older and I thought this was a book about the kiss … so I said, ‘No, no, no, please don’t reprint it, let’s leave that in the past.’ But well, now it’s my karma,” Fernández said, laughing.
One of the excerpts from the book reads: “A couple with a lot of sex, a lot of sexual satisfaction, but few real kisses or kisses that say nothing, digs the grave of love and establishes routine with every sexual encounter. Tired and exhausted until one of them finds something more human.”
Fernández argued that he could be accused of “nothing” since the work in question “contains no heresy or errors”. He stressed that his critics’ strategy was to repeatedly quote “phrases” from the book in order to question the pope for appointing someone with “such superficial theology and street language” to a key position.
The book includes a poem by Fernández: “How could God be so ruthless in giving you that mouth… No one can resist, witch, hide it.” The cardinal lamented on social media that critics were “bruja” or mistranslated “witch” as “slut”.
Fernández said he wrote the book with a group of young people when he was a pastor in Argentina’s city of Santa Teresita, in the central province of Córdoba. He said it was written as catechesis for young people, with input from his young collaborators, and he improved it with “a little editing.”
In the book’s introduction, Fernández wrote that the book was not written from his personal experience and that its aim was to summarize what “mortals” experience when they kiss.
Fernández says he’s written dozens of texts since then, and that his critics should cite those he’s published in “high-ranking” peer-reviewed journals. He was rector of the Catholic University of Argentina and director of the Argentine Society of Theology. He was recently made a cardinal.
“But they take this little catechism for young people from a poor country pastor and take phrases out of context,” said Fernández.
In Argentina, Fernández has faced some criticism on social media, but enjoys the support of the church in his home country.
“He explained the subject brilliantly and clearly,” said Máximo Jurcinovic, communications director of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference.
Fernández said the pope told him his job as head of the Doctrine Office was to “guard the doctrine that comes from faith” to “give reason for our hope, but not as fingers-pointing enemies.” and condemn”.
The book isn’t the only controversial work Fernández has written in the past.
He admitted that some of his writings were sent anonymously to the Vatican after then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appointed him rector of the Catholic University of Argentina in 2009. The controversy led to a two-year delay in his release to work.
Fernández wrote about the ordeal shortly after Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, reporting that a newspaper article he wrote about gay marriage was included in the anonymous dossier and that an unnamed “congregation” in the Vatican – presumably the one in charge of Catholic education – repeatedly refused to see him for an explanation.
He was also forced to admit mistakes in handling a 2019 case involving a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor. The case has led to allegations by critics that Fernández was trying to protect the priest, an allegation that has been confirmed he has denied.
“Today I would certainly behave very differently and my performance was certainly inadequate,” he told the AP after celebrating Mass in La Plata.
By appointing Fernández as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis seemed to express a desire to break with the past.
“The dicastery that you will head in other times has used immoral methods. Those were times when, instead of promoting theological knowledge, possible doctrinal errors were investigated. What I expect from you is certainly something very different,” the pope wrote in a letter to Fernández.
Germany’s Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who was prefect of the office until he was dismissed by Francis in 2017, said the new guidelines were out of place because the department’s job is to “protect and promote revealed faith.”
“This is not a theological academy or a talk show where everyone can express their opinion,” said Müller on the conservative US broadcaster EWTN.
Fernández has described himself as a reformist who does not like to “break with everything” but advocates for a church that is “more inclusive and more respectful of different ways of life and ways of thinking”.
Associated Press journalist Nicole Winfield from Rome contributed to this report.