Bishop named to Vatican office handling sex abuse complaints discounted some victims, US group says

Pope Francis waves on Sunday as he arrives for the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter's Square at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME — A U.S.-based group that tracks how the Catholic hierarchy deals with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy says Pope Francis made a “troubling” choice in appointing an Argentine prelate to a powerful Vatican office that handles such cases.

On Saturday, the Vatican announced the pontiff had picked Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, to head the Holy See’s watchdog office for doctrinal orthodoxy. Its mandate includes handling sex abuse allegations lodged against clergy.

ADVERTISING, a 20-year-old Massachusetts organization that maintains an online archive of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, said in a statement that the prelate in 2019 refused to believe victims who accused a priest in the La Plata archdiocese of sexually abusing boys.

Francis “made a baffling and troubling choice,” the group said in statement emailed late Saturday in the U.S., citing how Fernández handled the case.

“In his response to allegations, he stoutly supported the accused priest and refused to believe the victims,” said. Fernández “should have been investigated, not promoted to one of the highest posts in the global church.”

Telephone calls to the La Plata archdiocese office went unanswered on Sunday. The archdiocese didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from the archbishop.

As a leader of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 60-year-old archbishop, who will take up his Vatican post in September, “will have immense power, especially when it comes to judging and punishing priests who abuse children,” said.

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