Priest resigns as consultant on doctrine after letter to pope

| November 2, 2017 | 10 Comments
Father Thomas Weinandy

In this 2013 file photo, Capuchin Franciscan Father Thomas Weinandy is pictured at the Washington headquarters of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops where he served as chief adviser on doctrinal and canonical affairs. CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

After publication of his letter to Pope Francis questioning the pontiff’s teachings, Father Thomas Weinandy has resigned from his position as consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

The Capuchin Franciscan priest is former executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs, serving in the post from 2005 until 2013. He expressed loyalty to the pope but at the same time told the pope that “a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate.”

He released his letter to several Catholic and other media outlets Nov. 1, including Crux. The priest told Crux, a Catholic news outlet, he did not write the letter in an “official capacity,” and he was alone responsible for it.

“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,” said James Rogers, chief communications officer for the USCCB.

“The work of the committee is done in support of, and in affective collegiality with, the Holy Father and the church in the United States. Our prayers go with Father Weinandy as his service to the committee comes to a close,” Rogers said in a statement issued late Nov. 1.

In a separate statement, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, said the departure of Father Weinandy as a consultant “gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of dialogue within the church.”

“Throughout the history of the church, ministers, theologians and the laity all have debated and have held personal opinions on a variety of theological and pastoral issues,” the cardinal said. “In more recent times, these debates have made their way into the popular press. That is to be expected and is often good.

“However, 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,” he added.

In his letter, Father Weinandy outlines five areas of concern where he said confusion may result among the faithful.

First, he shared unease with the pope’s “manner” of teaching in his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”). “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,” Father Weinandy wrote.

He said that while the exhortation urged pastors to accompany and encourage people in irregular marriages, it is unclear what the pope means by “accompaniment.”

“To teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit is given to the church, particularly to yourself, to dispel error, not to foster it,” the letter said.

It added that the pope also “seems to censor and even mock” those who uphold traditional church teaching on marriage as “Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism.”

“This kind of calumny is alien to the nature of the Petrine ministry,” the letter said.

Second, Father Weinandy wrote, “too often your manner seems to demean the importance of church doctrine,” accusing the pontiff of portraying doctrine “as dead and bookish.” He said the pope’s critics have been accused of “making doctrine an ideology.”

“But it is precisely Christian doctrine … that frees people from worldly ideologies and assures that they are actually preaching and teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel,” he said.

Father Weinandy’s third concern focused on the pope’s appointment of some bishops “who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them.”

“What scandalizes believers and even some fellow bishops, 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,” he wrote.

As a result, Catholics who “have championed authentic Catholic teaching” have lost enthusiasm and “are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd,” the letter said.

Fourth, the Capuchin told the pope that the push for decentralization in the church weakens church 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, Father Weinandy accused the pope of restricting criticism of his pontificate despite calls for transparency and invitations to all people, especially bishops, to speak openly.

“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. Many bishops are silent because they desire to be loyal to you, and so they do not express – at least publicly; privately is another matter – the concerns that your pontificate raises. Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse,” Father Weinandy’s letter said.

He concluded the letter by offering his prayers for the pope and writing, “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.”

In an interview with Crux and an explanation about his letter published by Catholic World Report, Father Weinandy said he felt divine inspiration for writing the letter to the pope.

He said last May when he was in Rome for a meeting of the International Theological Commission, he “spent two different sessions in prayer” about whether he should speak up about his concerns with the papacy.

Finally, he said, he told God to send him “a clear sign” that he should do it, suggesting that sign should come when he ran into someone he had not seen in “a very long time” and it would be a person he’d never expect to see in Rome while he was there. This person would tell him to “keep up the good writing.”

Father Weinandy then had a chance meeting with an archbishop he had not seen in 20 years. The prelate congratulated the priest on a recent book and said the words, “Keep up the good writing.” So Father Weinandy proceeded with the letter to Poe Francis.

“So, in a sense, I wanted to gain God’s approval, and not simply rely on myself,” he told Crux. “I feel the story shows that I’m attempting to be helpful.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement about the nature of dialogue in the Catholic Church today, said that “Christian charity needs to be exercised by all involved.”

“In saying this, we all must acknowledge that legitimate differences exist, and that it is the work of the church, the entire body of Christ, to work toward an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth,” he said.

“As bishops, we recognize the need for honest and humble discussions around theological and pastoral issues,” he continued. “We must always keep in mind St. Ignatius of Loyola’s ‘presupposition’ to his spiritual exercises.”

“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,” he said, quoting the saint.

“This presupposition should be afforded all the more to the teaching of our Holy Father,” Cardinal DiNardo explained.

The USCCB is “a collegial body of bishops working toward that goal,” he added, asserting that the bishops, “as pastors and teachers of the faith, “always stand in strong unity with and loyalty” with Pope Francis.

Quoting “Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Cardinal DiNardo said the pope “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”

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Category: U.S. & World News

  • Charles C.

    Not a bad article, I was surprised at the depth to which the coverage went. May I add a couple of points which were of interest to me?

    Father Weinandy did resign, but he was asked to within hours of the letter being made public.

    By being, in effect, fired, Father Weinandy and the USCCB prove his point: “Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse.”

    While the USCCB was quick to fire Fr. Weinandy, the case of Jessica Garrels provides an interesting counter-example. She works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as a program quality coordinator (And yes, the USCCB is her ultimate boss). She is also a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood as evidenced by several posts on her Facebook page. These public posts were called to the attention of the US bishops and CRS. A year after her comments were made public she is still employed by CRS.

    No comment on her case has been made by CRS or USCCB. It appears to this relatively uninformed layman that there is some fundamental dissent the bishops will tolerate, and some honest questions which they won’t.

    • LauraB

      It’s sad, but it is the sign of the times…..too many liberals in the Vatican.

      • susan

        exactly really sad ?

  • DebraBrunsberg

    If only all bishops had the same courage as Father Weinandy. He was eloquent in his writing, respectful while laying out exactly what the laity is seeing. For this he is fired. He at least has a spine to go with his obvious love for the Church and for the Lord. I cannot say the same for the USCCB. The sheep are starving. Where are the shepherds?

    • LauraB

      AMEN. God bless Father Weinandy.

      • susan

        Amen he is a brave soldier of God??

  • charlienoel

    Actually, I am glad that Father Weinandy was directed to resign. While his letter is well thought out in his principal criticisms, to the point and reflects in an economic way most of the principal criticism of the Pope by far right Catholic bloggers, it is uncalled for. He adds weight to the hubris of arrogant criticism of the Holy Father, especially from American critics like Cardinal Burke and others. Choosing to publicize criticisms that are actually quite severe, implying that the Pope is derelict in his duty, in such a poisoned environment suggest exactly the opposite of filial affection and honor. Moreover, I am surprised that such an accomplished theologian would be so easily taken in by what sounds like the Devil. Playing games with God, offering up this rather ridiculous test regarding running into an old acquaintance in Rome who would speak such and such words is incredibly controlling and suggests that Fr. Weinandy was lacking in the ability to truly hear the Shepherds’s voice in a way initiated not by himself but by the Good Shepherd, himself! The fact that he was tormented all night before deciding to write and publicize his critique suggests not the loving push of the Holy Spirit but an attack by the evil one. His resignation is needed and appropriate as I am sure he remains a loyal son of the Church.

    • susan

      you are so wrong, he is speaking for a great many Catholis right now who are not happy! Cardinal Burke is a great man and follows the Doctrine while the Pope seemingly implies changing things! He is by no means alone I assure you and rightfully specifies the problems and worries we have!

  • susan

    this Pope is not open to critique and this proves it?
    he is very confusing and not being helpful to his flock?
    look what he has done to the order of Malta for further sad news!

  • Soothsayer

    Burke = Eichmann, Pell = Bormann! Dolan, Law and the list goes on. These fascists protected scores of rapists worldwide! Rejoice, the Kingdom of Heaven will not be theirs!