Pope’s choice to deal with sex abuse allegations refused to believe some victims, US group says

ROME (AP) — A U.S.-based group that tracks how the Catholic hierarchy handles allegations of clergy sex abuse says Pope Francis made a “troubling” choice in appointing an Argentine prelate to a powerful Vatican office that handles such cases.

On Saturday, the Vatican announced that the pontiff had chosen Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, to head the Holy See’s oversight office for doctrinal orthodoxy. Its mandate includes handling sexual abuse allegations filed against clergy.

BishopAccountability.org, a 20-year-old Massachusetts organization that maintains an online archive of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, said in a statement that the prelate in 2019 refused to believe victims who accused a priest of the Archdiocese of La Plata of having sexually abused. boys.

Francis “made a disconcerting and troubling choice,” the band said in a statement sent to the United States on Saturday night, citing Fernández’s handling of the matter.

“In his response to the allegations, he strongly supported the accused priest and refused to believe the victims,” ​​BishopAccountability.org said. Fernández “should have been investigated, not promoted to one of the highest positions in the world church”.

Phone calls to the office of the Archdiocese of La Plata went unanswered on Sunday. The archdiocese did not immediately respond to an email request for comment from the archbishop.

As head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 60-year-old archbishop, who will take office in the Vatican in September, “will have immense power, especially when it comes to judging and punishing priests who abuse children,” says BishopAccountability.org.

A trusted adviser to the pontiff, Fernández has been dubbed the “pope’s theologian” because he is widely credited with helping draft some of Francis’ most important documents. The pope named him head of the Archdiocese of La Plata in 2018.

BishopAccountability.org said that after a 2008 child abuse complaint against a parish priest in La Plata resurfaced in 2019, the archbishop posted a letter from the priest on the website of the archdiocese. In it, the cleric denied the allegation of abuse and said he had been slandered.

The archbishop then went to the parish of the accused priest and celebrated a mass with him, according to BishopAccountability.org.

Despite other allegations surfacing, Fernández allowed the priest to continue working. The archbishop eventually fired him, saying the priest had asked to leave for “health reasons”. In December 2019, the priest killed himself hours after a judge issued an order for his arrest, according to the watchdog group and Argentine media at the time.

“Nothing about his performance suggests he is fit to lead the pope’s battle against abuse and cover-up,” BishopAccountability.org said of Fernández.

Francis pledged that the Catholic Church adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on clergy sexual abuse.

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