One of the most renowned Catholic theologians in the world has written a letter to Pope Francis to say that the Pope’s tendency “to teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.”
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., the former head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and a current member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, said that the pontiff is causing “chronic confusion” through vague teaching and by appointing bishops who “scandalize” the faithful. He says that Pope Francis’ 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,” which, one day, will have to be corrected.
Who is Fr. Weinandy?
Fr. Weinandy is a highly regarded and accomplished American theologian who is former chief of staff for the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and a current member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. He is the current President of the Academy of Catholic Theology, and a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, the Catholic Theological Society of Great Britain, the North American Patristics Society, and the Association Internationale D’Etudes Patristiques.
Fr. Weinandy formerly served as Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2005 until 2013. In 2014, Weinandy was named to the International Theological Commission, the main advisory body to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Francis, who also gave him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal in recognition of service to the Church in 2013.
The Letter Made Public
Fr. Weinandy charges that the pope is fostering “chronic confusion” and is demeaning the importance of doctrine. He also laments the silence of Pope Francis in the face of the dubious teaching and pastoral practice of certain bishops who scandalize believers with views that run counter to Christian belief. All this is is leading to a situation where faithful Catholics are “are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd.”
Fr. Weinandy’s letter (full text of letter: click here) is dated July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the pope’s Jesuit order, CRUX reports, and made public Wednesday. After receiving a response to the letter in mid-October from Holy See Deputy Secretary of State Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the reply dated September 7 and confirming Weinandy’s letter had made it to Pope Francis, Weinandy provided the text to Crux and other media outlets.
As to why he chose to go public, Weinandy said “the letter expresses the concerns of many more people than just me, ordinary people who’ve come to me with their questions and apprehensions,” and “I wanted them to know that I listened.” He likewise said that he intended to publish the letter publicly, unless the Pope adequately raised the issues he raised.
Five Points of Concern
In the three-page letter, Fr. Weinandy makes five basic points. First, he tells Pope Francis that in his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, “your guidance at times seems intentionally ambiguous, 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 an intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth,” Fr. Weinandy wrote.
Fr. Weinandy also complains that Francis seems “to censor and even mock” those with traditional positions on marriage, styling them as “Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism.”
“This kind of calumny is alien to the Petrine ministry,” he said.
Second, Fr. Weinandy objects that Francis too often portrays doctrine as “dead and bookish,” and accuses those concerned with upholding doctrine of turning it into an “ideology.”
“But it is precisely Christian doctrine … that frees people from worldly ideologies and assures them they are actually preaching and teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel,” he wrote.
Third, Fr. Weinandy charges, faithful Catholics are “disconcerted” by the appointment of bishops “who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief, but who support and even defend them.”
Fourth, Fr. Weinandy asserts, the kind of decentralization being pushed by Francis undercuts the Church’s unity.
“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 said.
Finally, Fr. Weinandy tells Pope Francis his resentment of legitimate criticism has led to a climate of fear. “Bishops are quick learners,” he wrote, “and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it,” claiming that many bishops don’t speak out publicly for fear they will be “marginalized or worse.”
Asked to Resign
Fr. Weinandy, told Catholic World Report that since the letter’s publication, he has received many positive and encouraging notes from theologians, priests, and lay people. However, the USCCB asked him to resign from his current position as consultant to the bishops, and he has submitted his resignation. In making such a request, the USCCB, it would appear, reinforces Fr. Weinandy’s very point about fearfulness and lack of transparency.