A Catholic priest, Rev. Thomas G. Weinandy, who is a leading American theologian and a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, was asked to resign as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) — and he submitted his resignation — after a letter he wrote to Pope Francis questioning some aspects of his papacy was made public.
Fr. Weinandy sent the letter to the Pope on July 31, 2017 and promised himself that he would make it public only if the Pope did not respond. Fr. Weinandy made the letter public this week.
On Nov. 1, the USCCB issued a statement, saying, “After speaking with the General Secretary of the Conference today, Father Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., has resigned, effective immediately, from his position as consultant to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine.”
In a separate statment, also issued on Nov. 1, the USCCB said Fr. Weinandy’s departure offered an opportunity “to reflect on the nature of dialogue within the Church,” and added, “we always stand in strong unity with and loyalty to the Holy Father, Pope Francis.”
In his letter to the Pope, Fr. Weinandy, who is the president of the Academy of Catholic Theology, asked several questions about the Pope’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, the selection of bishops “who hold views counter to Christian belief,” and a pontificate that seems to be marked by “chronic confusion” and “ambiguity” in “words and actions.”
The opening of the letter is deeply respectful to the office and person of Pope Francis and notes that all Catholics look to him “with filial loyalty and obedience grounded in truth.”
Fr. Weinandy then writes, “Yet Your Holiness, a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate. The light of faith, hope, and love is not absent, but too often is obscured by the ambiguity of your words and actions. This fosters within the faithful a growing unease.”
He then comments on Amoris Laetitia, which in its Chapter 8 (and foornote 351) indicates that in certain circumstances, couples living in adultery may receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In Amoris Laetitia, your guidance at times seems intentionally ambiguous,” writes Fr. Weinandy, “thus inviting both a traditional interpretation of Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce as well as one that might imply a change in that teaching.”
“To teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Sprit of truth,” states Fr. Weinandy. “The Holy Spirit is given to the Church, and particularly to yourself, to dispel error, not to foster it.”
He continues, “[Y]ou 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 advisers regrettably seem to engage in similar actions. Such behavior gives the impression that your views cannot survive theological scrutiny, and so must be sustained by ‘ad hominem’ arguments.”
Fr. Weinandy also comments on on bishops, appointed by Pope Francis, who create scandal.
“[F]aithful Catholics can only be disconcerted by your 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,” writes the priest.
“What scandalizes believers, and even some fellow bishops,” he writes, “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.
“This weakens the zeal of the many women and men who have championed authentic Catholic teaching over long periods of time, often at the risk of their own reputations and well-being.”
As for those bishops who are faithful and orthodox, Fr. Weinandy writes, “You have frequently encouraged, particularly during the past two synods, all persons, especially bishops, to speak their mind and not be fearful of what the Pope may think. But have you noticed that the majority of bishops throughout the world are remarkably silent? Why is this?”
“Bishops are quick learners, and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it,” says Fr. Weinandy. “Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse.”
So why has Jesus allowed this to happen? asks Fr. Weinandy. “The only answer that comes to mind is that Jesus wants to manifest just how weak is the faith of many within the Church, even among too many of her bishops.
“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.”
In conclusion, the theologian writes, “Holy Father, I pray for you constantly and will continue to do so. May the Holy Spirit lead you to the light of truth and the life of love so that you can dispel the darkness that now hides the beauty of Jesus’ Church.”
Fr. Weinandy’s complete letter may be read here.