Is ‘Amoris laetitia’ compromised because of ghostwriter plagiarism?

victor-manuel-fernandez_medThere is a bit of hard reporting and analysis at Crux today which merits close attention.

Also, at the end, I have a face-saving solution for everyone regarding the Five Dubia and controversy about Amoris laetitia Chapter 8.

Here is some helpful text criticism.  My emphases and comments:

Ethicist says ghostwriter’s role in ‘Amoris’ is troubling

It turns out that the most important footnote in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ may be one that’s not there, because a key passage of the document is lifted almost verbatim from a 1995 essay in theology by Archbishop Victor Fernandez — raising troubling questions about Fernandez’s role as ghostwriter, and the magisterial force of his ideas.  [Did you get that?]


[Editor’s note: In this essay, Professor Michael Pakaluk of the Catholic University of America examines the role of Argentine Archbishop Victor Fernandez, a theological adviser to Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia, the pontiff’s document on the family. [NB] Crux invited Fernandez to respond, and his comments appear at the bottom of the article.]

The most important footnote in Amoris Laetitia may not be, as many suppose, one dealing with access to the sacraments for Catholics in “irregular” situations. Instead, it may be a footnote that’s not actually in the document but which should be, since one of the sentences in Amoris is lifted nearly verbatim from an essay published in 1995 in a Buenos Aires theological journal.

The sentence, from the notorious chapter 8, is this: “Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: ‘Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues.’” [Cf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 65, art. 3 ad 2 and ad 3].

One must see the Spanish to see the plagiarism clearly.  In Spanish, the Amoris sentence is this:

“Ya santo Tomás de Aquino reconocía que alguien puede tener la gracia y la caridad, pero no poder ejercitar bien alguna de las virtudes, de manera que aunque posea todas las virtudes morales infusas, no manifiesta con claridad la existencia de alguna de ellas, porque el obrar exterior de esa virtud está dificultado: ‘Se dice que algunos santos no tienen algunas virtudes, en cuanto experimentan dificultad en sus actos, aunque tengan los hábitos de todas las virtudes.’”

And the corresponding sentence from that 1995 theological journal is this:

“De hecho santo Tomas reconocia que alguien puede tener la gracia y la caridad pero no ejercitar bien alguna de las  virtudes “propter  aliquas dispositiones contrarias” (Summa Th., I-IIae., 65, 3, ad 2), de manera que alguien puede tener todas las virtudes pero no manifestar claramente la posesion de alguna de ellas porque el obrar exterior de esa virtud esta dificultado por disposiciones contrarias: “Se dice que algunos santos no tienen algunas virtudes en cuanto tienen dificultades en los actos de esas virtudes, aunque tengan los habitos de todas” (Ibid, ad 3).”

And here is the footnote that should be there, but isn’t: “Victor M. Fernandez, Romanos 9-11 : gracia y predestinación, Teologia, vol 32, issue 65, 1995, pp. 5-49, at 24.  Cf. Victor M. Fernandez, La dimensión trinitaria de la moral II: profundización del aspecto ético a la luz de “Deus caritas est”, Teologia, vol 43, issue 89, 133-163 at 157. Evangelii Gaudium 171.”

One must add the bit about Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel, because the same sentence was used there too without attribution, and one must also refer to another article by Fernandez, with yet another version of the sentence.

Naturally, I use the term “plagiarism” in its material, not formal sense.

You and I will suspect that Fernandez, now an archbishop and close friend of the pope and said to be the ghostwriter of Laudato Si, was also the ghostwriter of Amoris chapter 8 and parts at least of Evangelii Gaudium. In the sentence cited above, he was simply helping himself to his own, earlier writings.


Smoking gun.

A little farther along, there is a table showing texts side by side so that you can see the concurrence/dependence.  I did this recently with another deceptive work.  HERE

The writer has some conclusions.  Here is one of them:

The first is that Amoris needs to be “taken back to the shop,” to have various flaws removed or corrected.  I have already pointed out how footnote 329 misquotes Gaudium et Spes, and that it must deliberately misquote that document to advance its implicit argument.

Do I hear an “Amen!”?

Think about this for a moment.   When documents are released, there is usually a press conference during which the document and its context and intent are described by the head of the dicastery that most concerns it, along with some experts.  However, the text that is initially released is a provisional text.  The text is harden and set in stone when it is eventually published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, which publication is the official instrument of promulgation for the Holy See.  It is an interesting exercise to do “text criticism” with these documents, to compare the version from the time of its release and press conference to the version that appears later, sometimes months later, in the AAS.  You can find many changes to the text.  The changes are often stylistic.  Sometimes they are substantive, as in the case of St. John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia.  There was a major (fishy) screw up in the initial version, corrected in the AAS, concerning the words “pro multis” in the form of consecration.  HERE  The mistake was corrected.

However, think about what this post-release correction means for students and scholars and pastors of souls!  There are people who quote only from the translations that were issued at the time of the initial release.   They don’t check the AAS version – the official version – which might be different.

As I write this, the AAS has been completed and posted online for 2015.  HERE  They have not released any of 2016 yet, at least online.  Amoris was dated 19 March 2016 and it was released on 8 April 2016.

And so, if anyone in Rome wants to “save face”, as it were, correct Amoris laetitia Chapter 8 in the official version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis and let everyone know that the official version has been corrected.   

There’s still time!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in CRUX WATCH, The Drill and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Thomistica says:

    Fr. Z,
    I should think that the authors of the Dubia would want to promote what you have suggested here. Whether in their correction, in camera caritatis, or publicly.
    Imho, it seems very unlikely that the Pope will back an effort of the kind you mention here. But it is great that you are proposing it, as it will provide one more marker of the Pope’s recalcitrance if he does not act on your suggestion.
    Incidentally, I can understand why the four Cardinals would want to issue a correction privately, initially. It shows a temperate approach. However, I also wonder about the necessity of privacy, as ample opportunity has already been offered to the Pope to answer the Dubia.
    In fine, we must respect the decision by the four Cardinals as to the manner in which they decide to issue their initial correction, if they still intend to. Maybe they have already! But at the same time, it will be very problematic if they do not follow a private correction it with a public one.
    The issues posed by Amoris Laetitia are here to stay and will return in some future pontificate if they are not handled now. It is important for there to be a high level challenge to the Pope, and then let the chips providentially fall where they may.

  2. Father Bartoloma says:

    Little did I think, as I was graduating high school in 1995, that an apostolic exhortation for 21 years and two popes later was also being written.

  3. Toan says:

    I’ve met Professor Michael Pakaluk. A very good man.

  4. Joseph-Mary says:

    Is not that Archbishop the one who wrote a book on kissing of all things?

  5. MattnSue says:

    Reason # 745,812(B) why documents like this should actually be composed in Latin (and not translated later), regardless of the native tongue of the Holy Father.

  6. chantgirl says:

    Thomistica- One of the reasons the Cardinals went public with the Dubia is that the confusion over Amoris is widespread and public. The correction will eventually need to be made public if the confusion is to be addressed. I agree that, initially, a correction should be private, but should Pope Francis persist in refusing to clarify, a public correction should be given. In justice, the people of God are owed a clarification. While a private correction would give the Pope a chance to rethink his position, it does nothing to address the public scandal AL has caused.

  7. chantgirl says:

    Who is responsible for editing the final version of AL which will be included in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis? The CDF?

  8. Wirkes says:

    Does Amoris have anything at all to say about Family Life???? That is ,allegedly, the topic of the Exhortation. Fr. Wirkes

  9. Thomistica says:

    Chantgirl, thanks, good points.
    I hope the four Cardinals don’t wait too long for the public correction. It seems pretty certain that the latter will come. I don’t know about the other cardinals but Burke seems to be all in on getting this situation cleared up.
    (Just occurred to me that “The Four Cardinals” sounds like a jazz quartet or something. Nothing wrong with a little humor, I guess.)

  10. MitisVis says:

    Abp. Fernandez wrote The Art of Kissing but if I remember correctly he also wrote about a “decentralized” church where bishops conferences would decide doctrinal matters…
    I don’t believe there is any intent to correct anything, more the intent to codify using the unofficial official path we have seen giving the instigators an unofficial official cover of legitimacy. You cannot correct the ambiguous unofficial, but you must obey the implied official.

  11. Pingback: MONDAY EXTRA | Big Pulpit

  12. Sadly, it seems that a correction will not happen because this is about ideology and not TRUTH.

  13. Benedict Joseph says:

    Perhaps I should not deposit my two cents since I don’t believe I have much to contribute, but I will anyway.
    Really, what is the news here?
    That Tucho Fernandez was the ghost writer for Pope Francis in the production of “Amoris Laetitia” has been know from the beginning. I knew it and if I knew it, it isn’t news. Only now the actual author is being brought to bear in drive to domestic the beast? The actual authorship has tormented me from the beginning. How could anyone fail to take note that the author of “Heal Me with Your Mouth” wrote “Amoris Laetitia”?
    It not only illuminates much about “Amoris Laetitia,” it speaks loudly about the current pontificate.
    Much appreciated Father’s insights on how the debacle we presently endure could find some mitigation as the text finds its final resting place, but I wouldn’t count on it. It is a specter that will be with us for a very long time. At least until we have a pontiff that is willing to drive a stake through it loudly and boldly and definitively, along with a bunch of other notions.

  14. NBW says:

    I wish that AL had never been written. What a mess!

  15. Susan M says:

    Just FYI – Regarding Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book, “Merchants in the Temple”, page 14…Talking about contracts Francis says: “We always have to check the legality and clarity of contracts with the utmost attention. Contracts can be very tricky, right? The contract might be clear BUT IN THE FOOTNOTES YOU FIND THE FINE PRINT WHICH IS TRICKY. Examine it carefully.”

    So he KNOWS about footnotes, knew about THE footnote while denying it to the press (“Footnote? What footnote?”) on one of his airplane trips.

  16. Susan M says:

    The above statement was made in June 2013.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    That’s it Benedict Joseph, “Heal Me with Your Mouth”. Feh. I want to be polite, but honestly, an archbishop writing such an effeminate book, about kissing! Really these men are shockingly horrible, what a plague. What an affront to Jesus Christ and His Church.
    Imagine St. Paul, here today, and him hearing a man given such responsibility and influence in the church writing a book called “Heal me with Your Mouth”, and posing for a photo like that one.
    Please God, the formal correction. How much more of these men can we stand.
    Thank you Fr. Z. What a trial for faithful priests like yourself. Thank you for making the sacrifices you have made in your life in order to be a priest.

  18. Benedict Joseph says:

    When I see that photo, Kathleen10, I try not to look. Its a picture that says a thousand words. And he is our ghostwriter.
    You can’t make it up.

  19. Mike says:

    Amoris laetitia is the prefabricated product of a sham process of “dialogue and encounter” staged to achieve a predetermined result. What is “compromised” here, as the institutional Church has been doing for two self-destructive generations, are souls precious to their Creator. It’s going to take more than a bottle of curial Wite-Out to repair that damage.

  20. SenexCalvus says:

    Much as I wish such were not the case, the putative validity of a magisterial document depends not on its presumed authorship, but on the authority of the prelate who, by virtue of his office, promulgates it. As we all know from the autobiographical reflections of Fr. Reginald Foster OCD, the Vatican’s former Latinist, the composition of official documents has long been a collaborative task, yet their authority nonetheless derives from the office of the man who has staked his salvation on their conformity with the Deposit of Faith.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    Is the picture of Fernandez and the window meant to make one think of Narcissus?

  22. SenexCalvus says:

    Elizabeth D,

    I hadn’t looked at His Excellency’s photograph before I read your post, but now that I have, I understand. Thank you.

  23. billy15 says:

    Fr. Z.,

    My attention was brought to an interview that Archbishop Fernandez gave in 2015. I was not aware of this before today. Some relevant snippets here that are a bit unsettling:

    ‘No turning back’

    The theologian widely acknowledged as the principal ghostwriter of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, says the Jesuit pontiff has already begun changing the Church in ways that cannot be reversed.

    Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, said that, even if the pope’s adversaries tried to turn back the clock in the next pontificate, the People of God would not stand for it.

    “The people are with (Francis) and not with his few adversaries,” he said in an exclusive published Sunday in the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera.

    The 52-year-old Fernandez is one of the pope’s principal theological advisers. Francis, who had to fight Vatican opposition to name his fellow countryman university rector in 2009, appointed the theologian titular archbishop only two months after he became pope.

    The archbishop said the 78-year-old Jesuit pope is patiently laying the groundwork for reforms that cannot be undone.

    “No, there’s no turning back,” he told the paper’s highly respected political analyst, Massimo Franco.

    “If and when Francis is no longer pope, his legacy will remain strong,” the archbishop said.

    “For example, the pope is convinced that the things he’s already written or said cannot be condemned as an error. Therefore, in the future anyone can repeat those things without fear of being sanctioned,” he added.

    Archbishop Fernandez is one of the leading theological aides to the pope, who last year was appointed to a special commission inside the Synod of Bishops…

    “The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will be turn everything back around. If you go slowly it’s more difficult to turn things back. He makes this clear when he says ‘time is greater than space.’”

    “The pope must have his reasons, because he knows very well what he’s doing. He must have an objective that we don’t understand yet. You have to realize that he is aiming at a reform that is irreversible. If one day he should intuit that he’s running out of time and he doesn’t have enough time to do what the Spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.”

  24. Elizabeth D says:

    The Arians probably also thought they could change the Church in ways that couldn’t be reversed. Truth is greater than time and space.

  25. thomas tucker says:

    Well said, Elizabeth D.
    How ironic that this fellow says that the Pope thinks what he says can’t be overturned as error, even as the current Vatican seeks to overturn what Benedict and JPII said regarding the divorced and remarried living as brother and sister.

  26. Grabski says:

    The people are with Francis

    Well yes. Looser mores always poll well…

  27. Not to be a fun sponge, but though the publishing of the official version in the AAS presents to the chance remove any ambiguities, it could just as easily be used to remove them in the opposite way you hope? While so many are distracted talking about the (currently public) version of AL, could not the official version could be used to cement in place those interpretations which most readers here seem to abhor? Were I Francis, and I believed in those interpretations, that’s what I’d do.

  28. un-ionized says:

    carolina, I love “fun sponge!”

  29. carolina publican says: the opposite way you hope?

    Of course. However, a sound principle of conflict is to show one’s opponent a path to safety. If they choose that path, all the better. Conflict and waste can be avoided. If they do not, that’s that.

  30. rhhenry says:

    Changing the text before official publication would be good, but I don’t think it would have much effect, especially in the short term. After all, the official documents of Vatican II have been available for 50 years, but everyone still “knows” that Vatican II turned the altars around, eliminated Latin, replaced Gregorian chant, etc. As our host himself has said, rarely does anyone consult the official texts in AAS.

  31. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Meanwhile, Dr. Williams notes, “Francis gave the Palestinian President a jubilee year medal as well as an Arabic version of his two teaching letters Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love) and Laudato Sì” – both are already (or newly? – I never thought to check, before) online in Arabic as well: presumably quite easy to correct to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis version, when that appears.

    Dr. Williams further notes, “The Holy See began referring to Palestine as a ‘state’ as of November 2012, when the United Nations voted to recognize it as a nonmember observer state, but only formally recognized Palestinian statehood in a legal document in May of 2015.” Does that mean that in some sense it has a higher level of recognition than the Supremus Ordo Militaris Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodius et Melitensis?

  32. LarryW2LJ says:

    Regarding the photo – just remember, the Archbishop is the subject, not the photographer. I doubt that he had much of a say in how the photo was taken – just following the directions of the photographer. At least in most cases, that’s how it’s done.

Comments are closed.