When one thinks of Argentine Catholicism, one unanswered question emerges: who among the local Church figures is the closest to Pope Francis? Two candidates head the list: Víctor Manuel Fernández and Carlos Galli. Both have been dean of the theology department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), which has its base in Buenos Aires. Both were called on for advice by Francis after he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Fernández, the current rector of the UCA, where Bergoglio was grand chancellor, was made an archbishop during the current papacy, while Galli was made a member of the International Theological Commission.

Fernández was born in the Argentine province of Cordoba; Galli in Buenos Aires. Fernández, a natural leader, is generally affable and calm. Galli is the more vehement of the two, and more markedly precise in his terms. Both have written numerous books and articles, and have been regular contributors to Criterio, an Argentine current affairs magazine with a Catholic slant, whose past contributors include Jorge Luis Borges.

Furthermore, Fernández has a major public profile, which allows him to reach a massive audience. His accounts of the fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in May 2007 at the city and pilgrimage site of Aparecida in Brazil, written in the form of a diary, demonstrated his mental agility, competence and humour. This was an occasion when Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared before the bishops of the subcontinent as a person of great stature, with immense capabilities of dialogue and hard work. By his side at that time were Fernández and Galli, his go-to theologians.

These two intellectuals are proud of their Latin American provenance, of their condition as citizens of the “end of the world”, somewhere they see as the continent of the future for the Catholic Church. Both adhere to the teología del pueblo (“theology of the people”) – equally interested in popular piety and in the Catholic roots of South American countries. It could be said that they are bound by an impetus that is innate to these Latin American latitudes.

Fernández was a teacher of various subjects at different seminaries and institutions: ethics, psychology, hermeneutics, anthropology, and moral and spiritual theology. He is a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and, in 2015, was made a member of the final report-drafting committee for the family synod. He has been able to meet and get to know some of the personalities currently close to Francis, such as Fr Antonio Spadaro, the Jesuit editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, and the theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte, among others.

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