However, in an interview with The Pillar yesterday, the archbishop was asked whether the DDF would move away from its traditional role in safeguarding doctrine, and he answered:
Look, if you read the pope's letter carefully, it is clear that at no time does he say that the function of refuting errors should disappear.
Obviously, if someone says that Jesus is not a real man or that all immigrants should be killed, that will require strong intervention.
But at the same time, that [intervention] can be an opportunity to grow, to enrich our understanding.
For example, in those cases, it would be necessary to accompany that person in their legitimate intention to better show the divinity of Jesus Christ, or it will be necessary to talk about some imperfect, incomplete or problematic immigration legislation.
In the letter, the pope says very explicitly that the dicastery has to “guard” the teaching of the Church. Only that at the same time – and this is his right – he asks me for a greater commitment to help the development of thought, such as when difficult questions arise, because growth is more effective than control.
Heresies were eradicated better and faster when there was adequate theological development, and they spread and perpetuated when there were only condemnations.
But Francis also asks me to help collect the recent magisterium, and this evidently includes his own. It is part of what must be “guarded.”
End quote. It is only just to acknowledge that these words clearly state that the DDF’s traditional function of rebutting “possible doctrinal errors” will not be abandoned. All well and good.
However, these new comments make the significance of the earlier ones I quoted in my previous article less clear, not more. For the pope and the archbishop indicated that they want the DDF to operate in a way that is “very different” from the way it has operated in recent decades. But if the DDF is going to continue with its “function of refuting errors,” including “strong intervention” to rebut those who promote such errors, how does that differ from how the CDF operated in recent decades?
Presumably the answer has to do with an emphasis on “accompanying” the person guilty of the errors, rather than “only condemnations.” But this too is not in fact a departure from the way the CDF operated under prefects like cardinals Ratzinger, Levada, Müller, and Ladaria. For example, though Ratzinger was caricatured in the liberal press as a “panzer cardinal,” that is the opposite of how he actually ran the CDF. As he complained in 1988:
The mythical harshness of the Vatican in the face of the deviations of the progressives is shown to be mere empty words. Up until now, in fact, only warnings have been published; in no case have there been strict canonical penalties in the strict sense.
For instance, theologian Edward Schillebeeckx was investigated by the CDF under Ratzinger, for Schillebeeckx’s dubious Christological opinions – precisely the sort of thing Archbishop Fernandez offers as an example of an error the DDF should deal with. But Schillebeeckx was given the opportunity to explain and defend his views, and his books were never condemned. More famously, Hans Küng lost his license to teach Catholic theology because of his heterodox views on papal infallibility and other matters. But he continued teaching at the same university and remained a priest in good standing. So far was he from being “condemned” by the Church that one of Ratzinger’s first acts after being elected Pope Benedict XVI was to invite Küng over for a friendly dinner and theological conversation.
In reality, the person dealt with most harshly by the CDF under Ratzinger was not a progressive, but rather someone with whom Ratzinger was accused of being too sympathetic – namely, the traditionalist Archbishop Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988. And it is precisely traditionalists whom Pope Francis has also dealt with most harshly during his own pontificate. Indeed, Pope Francis’s treatment of traditionalists seems the reverse of what Archbishop Fernandez characterizes as an “accompanying” rather than “condemning” approach.
Hence, while the archbishop’s most recent remarks are welcome, they make the import of his earlier remarks, and the pope’s, murkier rather than clearer. In any event, if a patient and charitable approach to dealing with doctrinal disputes is what the archbishop is after, then Pope Benedict XVI in fact provided a model to emulate rather than abandon. And Pope Francis too provides something of a roadmap, insofar as he has many times said that he welcomes respectful criticism.
Archbishop Fernandez ends the interview by asking for prayers as he takes up his new post, and makes clear that he would be “grateful” for the prayers of his critics no less than those of his supporters. It would be most contrary to justice and charity for anyone to refuse this humble request, and I happily offer up my own prayers for the archbishop.