Remaining Catholic in the Midst of Turmoil: A Clerical Abuse Survivor's Response to Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández's book "The Mystical Passion"
There is no sugar coating it: being a practicing Catholic can be difficult even in the best of times. During His life on earth, Jesus never promised us that this earthly life would be easy, nor did He promise that His Church would always be led by flawless human beings. Even St. Peter, the first pope (and also the man to whom Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom of Heaven) betrayed our Lord and Savior. In other words, there is no perfect leader. The “people part” of the Church is made up of sinners.
These are trying, sometimes backwards times. Wrong is seen as right, right considered wrong, and confusion and division abound. This is true even within the Catholic Church. In my own lifetime, I have seen scandal after scandal. Of course, there is the clerical abuse scandal that broke in 2002 – a scandal that, even years later, continues to unfold. Even in my 39 years on this earth, I have witnessed the corruption among priests and the scandal that results from poorly catechized Catholics. I have witnessed the slow collapse of the family and the rise of LGBTQ principles. Slowly, Catholicism has been watered down to fit the agendas of the outside world. To some, being Catholic is no more than a nice title. The sacraments are not taken seriously, and liturgical abuses abound. We can easily point to many reasons for this downfall in morals. Poor church leadership and the pride of our leaders are certainly factors contributing to an ever-growing modernist/progressive agenda.
Even all these years after the sex abuse scandal broke, it is horrifying to me that survivors are still not taken seriously in many cases. A lack of transparency and accountability remain. Good, holy leadership within the Catholic Church is sorely lacking. In my heart, I know that the Catholic Church is the best place for me to be. However, as well as I know that I should stick with it, the bad times do make it hard to keep going. I speak as a survivor of clerical abuse when I say that remaining a practicing Catholic was challenging when I was being abused. It became easier over time and, in recent years, has become more challenging in ways different than before.
It is frustrating to realize that there are many Catholics who seem to have learned nothing from the abuse scandal. One just has to look at some of the people closest to Pope Francis to see this. To be clear, I respect the pope and I believe that he is truly the valid pope. However, I have to wonder if Pope Francis is naive, foolish, or simply on board with everything going on in the church at the present time. Whether he has made decisions himself or relied on others, I question some of his decisions including his Vatican appointments. When I hear about some of the people, he chooses to align himself with, I have to wonder, “What in the world was he thinking?”
I certainly raised my eyebrows when Pope Francis elevated Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández to prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) last year. The cardinal comes with some “baggage” that was known at the time of his election. He is the author of Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing, a book containing erotic themes. Yet even that (and other questionable writings) book wasn’t enough to prevent him from moving on up in the ranks. Now, we have learned that he wrote another book that has become the object of scrutiny - and no wonder. The Mystical Passion is a highly inappropriate and scandalous book written by Fernández back in 1998. Not long after its publication, he decided that the book could be “misinterpreted” and so he had it pulled. How he managed to get it to disappear as much as it did is a bit of a mystery.
A Deeply Concerning Book
I had a chance to read some of Mystical Passion. All I will say is that the material is nauseating - sexually graphic in areas, blasphemous, and completely inappropriate on so many levels. It would likely be triggering especially for any survivor of sexual abuse. It certainly was for me. I only got through a couple portions of the writing before I felt physically ill.
A book of this nature should be concerning. It is flawed for many, many reasons. However, what makes it even more concerning is the fact that it was inspired by a 16-year-old girl's “spiritual” but sensual encounter with Jesus as relayed to Fernández. Let's be clear: I am not suggesting that Cardinal Fernández has ever abused anyone. However, the parts of the book that I read demonstrate both grooming and spiritual abuse. Some of the lines stood out to me because my rapist said almost identical things while he was grooming and abusing me. As has happened in many cases of clerical abuse, my rapist often combined abuse with spirituality. He would try to make the awful things he was doing seem beautiful and godly. He wore a chastity ring even while he was abusing me.
While Mystical Passion is no longer in print and very difficult to find, Cardinal Fernández’s response to its resurfacing is “interesting.” He has stated that he wouldn't publish it nowadays and pulled it because he was afraid it would be “misinterpreted.”
Notice that he hasn't actually apologized or shown any remorse for writing it at all. He is simply worried that the rest of us will take it the wrong way. Fernández is gas lighting. Considering the book was published just a few years before news of the clerical abuse scandal broke out of Boston, MA, it's no wonder he got worried. Even he recognized that its content would be of concern. The fact that the head of the DDF – the Vatican department that promotes and defends Catholic doctrine - hasn't taken responsibility for writing such an awful book doesn't say much about his character.
This is a huge a red flag and it should not be allowed to simply slide.
The Mystical Passion is evil. Anyone trying to compare this book to works concerning human sexuality such as St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body needs to be set straight. These works are not the same - not even close. The fact that there are people even defending Fernández's work is proof of how desensitized we have become. Here is yet another side-effect of the Sexual Revolution.
A Grave Concern
Aside from the graphic descriptions contained in Mystical Love that are akin to the work of “revolutionaries” such as Alfred Kinsey (again, I mention his name with a word of caution as I do not recommend that you read his work unless you have a strong stomach), another concern is that (to the best of my knowledge) Fernández makes no mention of the openness to procreation being an important part of sexual intimacy. He also didn't specify that intimacy should be reserved only for a man and a woman in the context of traditional marriage. Since proponents of the Sexual Revolution have been trying to separate intimacy from procreation for a long time now, it is truly concerning that this work comes from someone directly from the Vatican.
Cardinal Fernández happens to be the individual who drafted the somewhat controversial Fiducia supplicans, a doctrinal declaration released with the pope’s approval on December 18th. The declaration concerns the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples. The church's stance on same-sex unions has not budged. However, as Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute stated in a response to the document, “This document is psychological warfare in an ongoing campaign to disarm opposition to the Sexual Revolution.” In my mind, Fernández's questionable background does calls into question whether there are ulterior motives behind Fiducia supplicans.
In a perfect world, Mystical Passion should have caught someone's attention years ago when it was first released. The fact that this book was not of concern to anyone and then quietly went away is a problem. Fernández should have been placed on leave and investigated just for voicing his thoughts at the time. Even 20+ years later, Fernández cannot be given a free pass. He needs to resign or be sacked. It's just that serious. Anyone who is in charge of making decisions on matters of faith better be darn well able to make good, holy decisions. The discovery of Mystical Passion has only added to the confusion, scandal, and public division caused by Fiducia supplicans.
What Have We Learned?
Have we learned nothing from the sexual abuse scandal? Have we learned nothing about the grooming process - about betrayal, manipulation, and the pushing of both spiritual and physical boundaries?
Apparently not. Regardless of whether or not this particular Cardinal ever physically abused anyone or not, his work in and of itself is spiritually abusive and manipulative. If the Vatican continues to turn a blind eye to this scandalous issue, they send the message to all clerical abuse survivors that we don't matter. The Vatican also sends the message that grooming, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse aren't high on the priority list, and some priests, bishops, and cardinals are still being given special treatment (nepotism is alive and well).
I can understand why so many Catholics are feeling frustrated, angry, and anxious. Being a Catholic is a tremendous gift. We have the gift of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, the greatest gift on this earth. However frustrated we are with bad times, it is better that corruption be exposed rather than hidden. I suppose that it is both a good and a bad thing that these scandals seem to be coming to light more and more under our current pope.
If Pope Francis chooses to ignore the discovery of Fernández’s blasphemous book (or if he knew about it before the rest of us and still ignored it), then all any of us can do is continue to pray and hope for a better leader. In the words of Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, “We've survived bad popes before. We'll survive this one.”
Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan once talked about the “struggle for the soul of America.” This battle is ongoing and has clearly worked its way into the Catholic Church. The fact that there are Catholic priests, monks, etc. actually defending Fernández’s book is mind-boggling. I made the mistake of hopping onto X (aka Twitter) the other day and witnessed the fiasco unfolding over there.
Lord, help us! I seriously question the motives of anyone defending this cardinal and his book. I question their ability to make good, sound, moral decisions.
There is Always Hope
Despite a sometimes not-so-great pope, despite influential but corrupt figures, despite poor leadership, despite the lack of accountability and transparency, despite a lack of holiness among many Catholics, and despite all the corruption, there is good within the Catholic Church. There are good, holy leaders. There is Truth. Most of all, there is Hope.
I want to remind you to never give up hope. Never give up your prayers and do your best to put all your faith and trust in God. Also, be careful about falling into a “gloom and doom” mentality. It’s not all bad. Stop for a moment and consider all of the gifts we have as Catholics. As my very wise father often reminds me in one of his inspirational pep talks (thanks, Dad!), people from the inside and outside have been trying to destroy the Catholic Church for the last 2000 years. They’re not going to succeed now.
Just as there is a constant push in society to normalize sexual debauchery, there is sadly more and more of a push coming from all churches, including infiltrators within the Catholic Church. It’s becoming more obvious. Yet, church teaching remains the same. Sin is still sin. The 10 Commandments haven’t changed despite the fact that people want the church to change along with the world. Consider that sexual promiscuity is still a sin. Homosexuality remains condemned. Pedophilia is condemned. Premarital sex is still a no-no. Contraception is still condemned. Euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, surrogacy, etc. still remain contrary to Catholic teaching.
The words of the Apostles Creed haven’t changed either. In short, despite some bad leaders and bad circumstances, nothing at the core of Catholic Truth has changed! The pope can still sin, but the Holy Spirit will never allow him to bring the church into error. Rest easy in that knowledge. Alleluia!
We have every right to be angry about Fernández’s book and about any sort of corruption. However, let us take our righteous anger to Our Lord in prayer. Let us focus our eyes on Jesus, the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, the saints, and everything else the Catholic Church has to offer. Sadly, sin, betrayal, and turmoil is a part of the human experience. As betrayed as I personally feel over and over again, what helps keep me going is remembering that no matter what I am going through (good or bad), Jesus is going through it too. Jesus hasn’t abandoned His Church and daily I continue to ask Him for the strength to stay and fight.
My latest Advice From a Survivor article with The Ruth Institute is concerning Fernández’s book
Interview with Christine Niles of Forward Boldly regarding the The Mystical Passion
Interview with Gina Christian of OSV News