A Theologian Is Dismissed After Criticizing the Pope

November 10, 2017
By District of the USA
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On November 1, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., a former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Doctrine and a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, published a July 31 letter he wrote to Pope Francis, expressing concern about the Pope’s approach in five key areas. The very same day, Fr. Weinandy was asked to resign his position as advisor to the US bishops’ conference (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine.  

“An Opportunity to Reflect on the Nature of Dialogue” 

In a statement dated November 1, 2017, Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, said, without apparent irony, that Fr. Weinandy’s resignation “gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of dialogue within the Church.”  

He recognized that legitimate theological debate sometimes makes its way into the public sphere but deprecated that “these reports are often expressed in terms of opposition, as political – conservative vs. liberal, left vs. right, pre-Vatican II vs Vatican II.  These distinctions are not always very helpful.”  

As a guideline—perhaps even a warning—for those critical of Pope Francis—Cardinal DiNardo added, “We must always keep in mind St. Ignatius of Loyola's ‘presupposition’ to his Spiritual Exercises: ‘…that it should be presumed that every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor's statement than to condemn it.’ This presupposition should be afforded all the more to the teaching of Our Holy Father.” 

Fr. Weinandy’s Letter 

Fr. Weinandy’s letter comes as the latest in a series of public criticisms of Pope Francis from clergy and theologians, including the recent Correctio Filialis, signed by Bishop Bernard Fellay among others. The complete text was published by Catholic World Report, among others. 

In his letter, he first expresses his “love for the Church and sincere respect” for the Pope’s office. “The Church,” he writes, “turns to you in a spirit of faith, with the hope that you will guide her in love.” 

Yet “a chronic confusion” seems to be the hallmark of Pope Francis’ rule, Fr. Weinandy says. The light of faith, hope and love is too often “obscured by the ambiguity of your words and actions.” 

“A Seemingly Intentional Lack of Clarity” 

The first example of ambiguity Fr. Weinandy gives is the Pope’s teachings on the infamous Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, which, he says, appear to promote contradictory interpretations of the Church’s teaching on marriage. “To teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth,” Fr. Weinandy warns. 

What is more, Fr. Weinandy observes, “you seem to censor and even mock those who interpret Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia in accord with Church tradition as Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism. This kind of calumny is alien to the nature of the Petrine ministry.  Some of your advisors regrettably seem to engage in similar actions.”  

“Such behavior,” Fr. Weinandy adds forthrightly, “gives the impression that your views cannot survive theological scrutiny, and so must be sustained by ad hominem arguments.” 

“You Portray Doctrine as Dead and Bookish” 

Secondly, the Pope’s manner, according to Fr. Weinandy, “seems to demean the importance of Church doctrine.” Francis portrays doctrine “as dead and bookish,” Fr. Weinandy says, while accusing critics of making it an ideology.  

But “those who devalue the doctrines of the Church separate themselves from Jesus, the author of truth,” Fr. Weinandy points out.  “What they then possess, and can only possess, is an ideology – one that conforms to the world of sin and death.” 

Faithful Catholics “Disconcerted” by the Pope’s Choice of Bishops 

Thirdly, Fr. Weinandy objects to Pope Francis’ choice of “some” bishops: “men who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them.” The cause forl scandal is “not only your having appointed such men to be shepherds of the Church, but that you also seem silent in the face of their teaching and pastoral practice.” 

In Fr. Weinandy’s opinion, “this weakens the zeal” of those “who have championed authentic Catholic teaching over long periods of time, often at the risk of their own reputations and well-being.” What is more, Fr. Weinandy believes, this has led to a widespread loss of confidence among the faithful.   

Confusing Promotion of “Doctrinal and Moral Options” 

The Church, as Fr. Weinandy points out, is one Mystical Body whose unity the Pope is bound to defend. Yet he considers the Pope to seem too often intent on doing the opposite, and wrongly so.  

“Encouraging a form of “synodality” that allows and promotes various doctrinal and moral options within the Church can only lead to more theological and pastoral confusion,” he writes. 

A Climate of Fear Within the Church 

While the Pope has frequently “encouraged, particularly during the two past synods, all persons, especially bishops, to speak their mind and not be fearful of what the pope may think,” Fr. Weinandy cites a widespread fear of marginalization or worse that keeps bishops and others silent. “Bishops are quick learners,” Fr. Weinandy affirms, “and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it.” 

Why has Jesus allowed all this to happen to the Church, Fr. Weinandy wonders, concluding that perhaps He wishes to manifest how weakly the Faith is held by many in the Church, even bishops.  

However, Fr. Weinandy perceives the advantage of letting those opposed to Faith show their true colours: “Ironically, your pontificate has given those who hold harmful theological and pastoral views the license and confidence to come into the light and expose their previously hidden darkness.” 

Why Make the Letter Public? 

Fr. Weinandy did receive confirmation in mid-October from Archbishop Becciu that his letter had been placed before the Pope. However, the Pope made no response. 

When asked why he made the letter public, Fr. Weinandy told Crux, “The letter expresses the concerns of many more people than just me, ordinary people who’ve come to me with their questions and apprehensions… I wanted them to know that I listened.” 

However, he was not afraid of negative personal consequences of having written and published his criticisms. “I am more concerned about the good my letter might do. 

A journalist writing for LifeSite News pointed out the irony of Fr. Weinandy’s dismissal when USCCB continues to employ public supporters of Planned Parenthood such as Jessica Garrels, program quality coordinator for Catholic Relief Services.