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Argentine bishop named to Vatican office rejects criticism of his handling of abuse allegations

Pope Francis appears at his studio's window overlooking St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on St. Peter and Paul's Day, Thursday, June 29, 2023.
Andrew Medichini
/
AP
Pope Francis appears at his studio's window overlooking St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on St. Peter and Paul's Day, Thursday, June 29, 2023.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An Argentine bishop named by Pope Francis to lead a powerful Vatican office that ensures doctrinal orthodoxy on Monday rejected accusations that he refused to believe victims of sexual abuse by a priest, saying he took actions when the allegations resurfaced in 2019.

Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, was appointed to head the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose mandate includes handling sex abuse allegations lodged against clergy.

BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts organization that maintains an online archive of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, said over the weekend in a statement that Fernández refused to believe victims who accused Eduardo Lorenzo, a priest in the La Plata archdiocese, of sexually abusing boys.

In a statement sent by La Plata Archbishop's office to the Associated Press on Monday, Fernández stated that he “never” said he didn't believe the victims, and that he took actions to ban the priest from all activities with minors and confine him to church facilities.

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“When someone files an accusation of this type, in principle they are always believed," he said. "But an investigation is also needed and to follow the due process established in the law.”

Fernández also said that in late 2019, Argentina's justice system ordered preventive detention for Lorenzo. The priest took his own life, and Fernández said that if he hadn't "he would probably have faced a criminal trial later.”

But BishopAccountablity.org said that after a 2008 child abuse complaint against Lorenzo resurfaced in 2019, the archbishop published a letter from the priest on the archdiocese’s website. In it, the priest denied the abuse allegation and said he was slandered.

The archbishop later went to the accused priest’s parish and celebrated a Mass with him, according to BishopAccountability.org.

Fernández also said Francis told him in a letter that as new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, he would focus on doctrinal matters, and leave any child abuse cases to a different disciplinary office.

A close adviser to the Argentine-born pontiff, Fernández has been nicknamed the “pope’s theologian″ because he is widely believed to have helped author some of Francis’ most important documents. Francis named him to head the La Plata archdiocese in 2018.

The pope has promised that the Catholic Church will adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on clergy sexual abuse.

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