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Cardinal says he destroyed remaining copies of 'inconvenient' book

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández responded to several questions regarding 'La pasión mística: espiritualidad y sensualidad'
Argentinian cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez (center) attends a mass at St Peter’s basilica for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, 2023, in The Vatican.

Argentinian cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez (center) attends a mass at St Peter’s basilica for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, 2023, in The Vatican. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 06, 2024 05:48 AM GMT
Updated: February 06, 2024 05:50 AM GMT

The Vatican's doctrinal head told OSV News that a controversial book he wrote more than 25 years ago is "by current standards … inconvenient" and "did not have the usefulness" he had envisioned at the time of writing.

In a Feb. 2 email, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to several questions from OSV News regarding "La pasión mística: espiritualidad y sensualidad" ("Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality"), published in 1998 while he was still a priest in Argentina.

The DDF prefect told OSV News that he bought "the few copies that were available in some bookstores and destroyed them."

The book billed itself as "an invitation to the world of passionate love that hides in the depths of our being."

Three of the book's chapters explicitly discuss orgasms, with the final chapter titled "God and the couple's orgasm." Another passage recounts a 16-year-old girl's "passionate encounter with Jesus" that includes caressing him on the beach and kissing his mouth.

Published while then-Father Fernández was an adviser to several Argentine bishops' commissions, the 94-page volume -- released by Mexico-based Ediciones Dabar -- explores what the author calls "the sublime paths of mystical union, until reaching a point in which we seem to touch the impossible."

Shortly after the original Spanish text resurfaced online in early January, two sexual abuse survivors -- who emphasized they were not accusing the cardinal of wrongdoing -- told OSV News they found the material, passages of which they had read in translation, distressing.

Clerical abuse survivor Faith Hakesley, author of "Glimmers of Grace: Moments of Peace and Healing Following Sexual Abuse," called the book "absolutely nauseating."

Teresa Pitt Green of Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice network that works with the Catholic Church, told OSV News that she was troubled by Cardinal Fernández's account of the unnamed teen in his book, which she said indicated "a level of impropriety that is very disturbing."

OSV News shared with Cardinal Fernández a link to the full text of its interview with Hakesley and Pitt Green and asked the cardinal for his specific thoughts on their concerns.

Writing in Spanish, he replied, "I agree that by today's standards it is an inconvenient book. In fact, I myself realized this 25 years ago, a few months after its publication and ordered it to be withdrawn because it seemed to me that it did not have the usefulness I had imagined, and that very young or very old people could get confused.

"Moreover, I bought the few copies that were available in some bookstores and destroyed them," the cardinal wrote. "That is why I regret that the ultra-conservative sectors that do not accept me have used this book and have spread it widely. It is totally against my will and no good is done with this. Today, I would write something very different."

Cardinal Fernández said that "the material on male and female orgasm was taken from scientific books. But today we prefer lay people to do this research and not priests.

"Over the years we have learned many things, especially in the last decades," he wrote.

Regarding the unnamed 16-year-old girl referenced in his book, the cardinal said that "the story that this person told me, which I narrated in the book, was her initiative and I, of course, did not want to inquire about it."

He added that "on the other hand, the person's age was imaginary, because this was in a small parish in the interior of the country, and I did not want anyone to be able to deduce who the person was."

The cardinal did not comment on two items mentioned by OSV News based on issues raised by Hakesley and Pitt Green: whether the book's explicit material was similar to content used by spiritual-sexual abusers who seek to desensitize victims to sexual boundary violations, and whether the book -- as Pitt Green noted -- would likely violate the U.S. bishops' current standards for preventing abuse (the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," also known as the Dallas Charter).

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