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The priest selected by Pope Francis to lead Vatican investigations of child sex abuse helped cover up such abuse in Argentina, according to a watchdog group.
Victor Manuel Fernandez, 60, was chosen Saturday to lead the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles sex abuse allegations against members of the clergy.
Bishop Accountability, a U.S.-based organization that tracks allegations against priests, called Fernandez’s appointment “baffling and troubling.”
“Fernandez’s recent handling of a clergy sex abuse case in his home archdiocese of La Plata raises great concern,” said Bishop Accountability co-director Anne Barrett Doyle. “In his response to allegations, he stood in stout support of the accused priest and refused to believe the victims.”
La Plata priest Eduardo Lorenzo was accused of child sex abuse in February 2019. Fernandez publicly backed the alleged perv and said the accusers had alternate motivations. While Lorenzo was investigated by police, Fernandez traveled to celebrate Mass with him.
Even as more accusers came forward later in the year, Fernandez kept Lorenzo at his post. He was only removed in October 2019 as the criminal case progressed.
Lorenzo died by suicide in December 2019, hours after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. In announcing Lorenzo’s death, Fernandez made no mention of the allegations against him.
“For his handling of this case, Fernandez should have been investigated, not promoted to one of the highest posts in the global church,” said Doyle. “Nothing about his performance suggests he is fit to lead the Pope’s battle against abuse and cover-up.”
Francis has publicly stated that a major goal of his papacy is to root out abusive priests and those who cover up their crimes.