Clash of the Prefects: An Olympian Struggle Between Two Opposed Theological Visions

Clash of the Titans is a nearly 50-year-old fantasy action film based on ancient Greek mythology. Since 2013, quite a few Catholics have reported the sensation of being trapped in a remake of the 1970s.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a giant of a man in several senses. Cardinal Victor Fernández (not so much) has been called upon by Pope Francis to step into his shoes. It’s generally agreed that, as Müller was a prelate characteristic of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate who survived for a time into the present era, so Fernández is the first prefect to be fully Pope Francis’s own man.

These two men have now entered the Synodal arena armed with clashing theological visions: one laser-focused on divine revelation, the inerrancy of sacred scripture and the Apostolic Tradition; the other swathed in the “recent magisterium” of Pope Francis and equally determined that our thought “be transfigured with his criteria”, particularly in matters of moral and pastoral theology.

In his first interview after assuming his new role as prefect, the then-Archbishop Fernández stated that the Pope not only has a duty to guard and preserve the “static” deposit of faith, but also a second, unique charism (hitherto unknown), only given to Peter and his successors, which is “a living and active gift … at work in the person of the Holy Father”.

“I do not have this charism, nor do you, nor does Cardinal Burke. Today only Pope Francis has it,” Cardinal Fernández told Edward Pentin. “Now, if you tell me that some bishops have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father, we will enter into a vicious circle (where anyone can claim to have the true doctrine) and that would be heresy and schism.” Fernández appears to believe that while the deposit of faith remains unchanged, the understanding of it held by the Church can pass through radically different, even contradictory phases. “Today the Church condemns torture, slavery and the death penalty, but this did not happen with the same clarity in other centuries. Dogmas were necessary because before them there were issues that were not sufficiently clear,” he said.

Fernández has consistently maintained an openness to the blessing of same-sex unions so long as such unions are not confused with marriage, which “at this point” the Church understands as “an indissoluble union between a man and a woman who, in their differences, are naturally open to beget life”.

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