Personnel is Policy

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This week saw two more Vatican scandals in a long line of scandals during the Francis papacy. On the surface they appear unrelated, but in reality they are examples of the same underlying problem. 

The more serious scandal of the two is that Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as the new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith—essentially, the Church’s doctrinal head. Who is Fernández? He is the ghostwriter of the doctrinally problematic Amoris Laetitia and also the author of a bizarre book on kissing, Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing. Putting Fernández in charge of the CDF is like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep. 

Fernández is scheduled to take over in September, right before the Synodality Synod begins its final push to rewrite the Catechism. Thus, Francis has in place someone who can rubber-stamp anything and everything the Synod produces, no matter how it strays from traditional Catholic teaching.

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The other scandalous story coming out of the Vatican was the papal audience granted to the artist of the blasphemous “Piss Christ” display. After this was made public, I saw many popesplainers arguing that surely the pope doesn’t know the details of everyone he meets, and so an audience given to  Andres Serrano does not reflect an endorsement of his work.

This may very well be true, and I’m happy to concede that point. However, Francis has been pope for over a decade now, which means that the Vatican has been deeply shaped by him—every significant position at the Vatican has either been appointed by him or by someone he appointed. Thus, someone at the Vatican agreed to give Serrano a papal audience, and perhaps even praised him to the pope before the audience. And that person is there because of Pope Francis. While Francis might not have directly endorsed Serrano, he did so indirectly by his personnel decisions.

And this is how the two scandals are connected. It’s a truism that “personnel is policy.” Whether you are a leader of a nation, a company, or a Church, your biggest impact on the organization comes from who you pick in important positions. This was one of the biggest weaknesses of Donald Trump—although he talked a big game about draining the swamp, he too often appointed swamp-dwellers into positions of power and influence. 

In the case of Pope Francis, his appointments—from Cardinal Cupich to Fr. James Martin to Archbishop Fernández to everyone in-between—have implemented a program that has undermined Catholic teaching at almost every turn. As President Harry Truman stated when it comes to being in charge, “The buck stops here.” When it comes to the attack on Catholic doctrine we see coming from so many figures in the Church, we need to realize that ultimately it points back to one man.  


  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.


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