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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The new head of the Vatican's doctrine watchdog is hinting at the prospect of ending the requirement of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
Asked if abolishing mandatory celibacy would "undermine doctrine," Abp. Víctor Manuel "Tucho" Fernández, prefect-designate of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that it would be Pope Francis' prerogative to make a considered judgment on the matter.
"It is a possible hypothesis, as indeed happens in the East. But this is a prudential decision that the pope must weigh," Fernández told Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale in an interview published Tuesday.
Responding to a majority of the synod fathers at the Amazon Synod calling for married priests, the prefect-designate said he could not expect "very concrete answers" but preferred "to wait to see where the Spirit wants to take us."
The archbishop, who will be elevated to the cardinalate in September, further lamented the "problem of theological language" used to describe the phenomenon of homosexuality as "objectively disordered" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Such terminology "sometimes ignores the effect it can have on people's hearts, as if it were indifferent to the pain it produces," Fernández explained. "But, as you know, this is not the case for Pope Francis, who would undoubtedly use different language."
The cardinal-elect, who has been appointed as head of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, expressed his disagreement with the way traditionalist Catholics interpreted the biblical texts on homosexual relations.
"There are biblical texts that cannot be interpreted in a 'material' way. I don't mean 'literal,'" the theologian, who has a licentiate in biblical theology, remarked. "The Church has long understood the need for hermeneutics that interprets them in their historical context."
"This does not mean that they lose their content, but rather that they should not be taken completely at their face value. Otherwise, we should obey the command of St. Paul which requires women to cover their heads, for example," the archbishop argued.
Fernández recently revealed that his methodology in interpreting biblical texts has been "deeply influenced" by the agnostic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), who was brought up as a liberal Protestant in Germany.
Gadamer, one of the most influential thinkers in philosophical hermeneutics, emphasized the dialogical nature of interpretation, highlighting that the reader is in conversation not only with the text but also brings his own preconceptions and prejudices to the text.
While Gadamer dethrones the Enlightenment focus on rationalism and empiricism in hermeneutics, he encourages the interpreter to move beyond questions of historical context and engage in applying the biblical text to their own context.
But since people are conditioned by their own prejudices, a text is never approached in the same way twice. As a result, a text contains an "inexhaustible multiplicity of answers," and "to understand at all is always to understand differently."
In an earlier interview, Fernández clarified that Pope Francis was referring to the Inquisition, the forerunner of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, when the pontiff spoke of how the doctrinal watchdog had historically used "immoral methods" to suppress dissenters.
"Today, there is a widespread acknowledgment that the Church no longer employs "immoral methods" in its teachings of the Faith. It is evident that the Pope's reference is directed towards the era of the Inquisition," the archbishop elaborated.
"However, it is important to recognize that over the past few decades, numerous theologians have voiced their concerns about a prevailing sense of persecution and constant scrutiny from ecclesiastical authorities," he added.
The prefect-designate said that the stifling environment has had a detrimental effect on theological discourse, as it has resulted in a repetitive cycle of regurgitating established ideas to avoid any potential risks.
"Francis understands that without unfettered theological debate, the teaching of the Church will hardly grow and develop," the archbishop stressed, arguing that while doctrine and objective morality remain fixed, there is a "spiral growth" in the development of doctrine.
During the era when modernism was being vigorously contested, a discernible system of surveillance persisted, albeit in a more veiled manner. Nonetheless, if I am to share my most vivid recollections, focusing on the recent years, I must acknowledge that under the leadership of Cdl. [Luis] Ladaria as prefect, a notably tranquil atmosphere prevailed.
Earlier, expressing openness to overturning the Vatican's ban on same-sex blessings, a ban that was categorically asserted by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021, Fernández candidly urged, "It wouldn't be bad to rethink it," Church Militant reported.
"If a blessing [to same-sex couples] is given in such a way that there will be no such confusion, it will have to be the subject of analysis and confirmation," Fernández insisted.
The prelate reiterated that "the greatest care" must be taken to "avoid rites or blessings that could feed this confusion" between the sacrament of marriage and liturgies offering blessings to homosexual couples.
But "there is a point where it [the issue of same-sex blessings] moves from a proper theological discussion to a more prudential or disciplinary question, as you will see," the prefect-designate explained.