A former chief of staff for the U.S. Bishops' committee on doctrine has written to Pope Francis saying his pontificate is marked by “chronic confusion” and warning that teaching with a “seemingly intentional lack of clarity risks sinning against the Holy Spirit.”
Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, who is now a member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, criticized the Pope for “demeaning” the importance of doctrine, committing “calumny” against some of his critics, and appointing bishops who “scandalize” believers with dubious “teaching and pastoral practice.”
The missive (see full text below) was sent to the Holy Father on July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, but only made public today.
Father Weinandy, who did not hold back in sharing his concerns with Pope Francis about his pontificate, began the letter underlining his “love for the Church and sincere respect” for the Petrine Office, and stating that Pope Francis is the “Vicar of Christ on earth, the shepherd of his flock.”
He stressed the Holy Spirit is given to the Church, and particularly to the Pope, to “dispel error, not to foster it,” and that only the light of truth can free mankind from the blindness of sin.
But he pointed out to the Holy Father that he seems “to censor and even mock” critics of Chapter 8 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, who wish to interpret it in accord with Church tradition, committing a “kind of calumny" that is “alien to the nature of the Petrine ministry.”
Elsewhere, he warned against the Pope’s concept of synodality, criticized him for resenting criticism (leading to silence from bishops), and censured Francis for being silent in the face of some bishops’ erroneous teachings and pastoral practice.
He closed by saying he believes the Lord has allowed all this to happen to show “just how weak is the faith of many within the Church,” and that ironically this pontificate has shed light on those who “hold harmful theological and pastoral views.”
Father Weinandy ended by saying he prays constantly for the Holy Father and will continue to do so, and asks that the Holy Spirit lead the Pope “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.”
“Expresses Concerns of Many”
In an interview with Crux, Father Weinandy said his decision to write the letter was not easy, and resulted from a moment of inspiration.
After praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, including at the tomb of Peter, on a visit to Rome, and struggling internally whether to write it, he gave God an ultimatum to give him a clear sign — one which he duly received (see his full account below).
“There was no longer any doubt in my mind that Jesus wanted me to write something,” Father Weinandy said, adding he is aware that might sound a little pretentious, but that it was important to illustrate his motives.
He also said he is not afraid of reprisals but “more concerned about the good that my letter might do.”
He 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.”
“I have done what I believe God wanted me to do,” he said.
Unlike others who have written critically to the Pope, such as the dubia cardinals, the authors of the filial correction, or the filial appeal, Father Weinandy received a brief reply in mid-October from Italian Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the number two official in the Secretariat of State.
Dated Sept. 7, the letter confirmed that Father Weinandy’s letter had been placed before the Pope.
A member of the International Theological Commission since 2014, Father Weinandy is a prolific author and highly accomplished theologian, having taught at numerous universities in the United States, as well as Oxford and Rome, at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Update, Nov. 1: According to Catholic World Report, the USCCB has now asked Father Weinandy to resign from his current position as consultant to the bishops, and he has submitted his resignation.
In his July 31 letter, he told the Pope: “Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse.”
Here below is the full text of Father Weinandy’s letter:
July 31, 2017
Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola
I write this letter with love for the Church and sincere respect for your office. You are the Vicar of Christ on earth, the shepherd of his flock, the successor to St. Peter and so the rock upon which Christ will build his Church. All Catholics, clergy and laity alike, are to look to you with filial loyalty and obedience grounded in truth. The Church turns to you in a spirit of faith, with the hope that you will guide her in love.
Yet, Your Holiness, a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate. The light of faith, hope, and love is not absent, but too often it is obscured by the ambiguity of your words and actions. This fosters within the faithful a growing unease. It compromises their capacity for love, joy and peace. Allow me to offer a few brief examples.
First there is the disputed Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia. I need not share my own concerns about its content. Others, not only theologians, but also cardinals and bishops, have already done that. The main source of concern is the manner of your teaching. In 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. As you wisely note, pastors should accompany and encourage persons in irregular marriages; but ambiguity persists about what that “accompaniment” actually means. To teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit is given to the Church, and particularly to yourself, to dispel error, not to foster it. Moreover, only where there is truth can there be authentic love, for truth is the light that sets women and men free from the blindness of sin, a darkness that kills the life of the soul. Yet 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 gives the impression that your views cannot survive theological scrutiny, and so must be sustained by ad hominem arguments.
Second, too often your manner seems to demean the importance of Church doctrine. Again and again you portray doctrine as dead and bookish, and far from the pastoral concerns of everyday life. Your critics have been accused, in your own words, of making doctrine an ideology. But it is precisely Christian doctrine – including the fine distinctions made with regard to central beliefs like the Trinitarian nature of God; the nature and purpose of the Church; the Incarnation; the Redemption; and the sacraments – that frees people from worldly ideologies and assures that they are actually preaching and teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel. Those who devalue the doctrines of the Church separate themselves from Jesus, the author of truth. What they then possess, and can only possess, is an ideology – one that conforms to the world of sin and death.
Third, faithful 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. 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. 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 a result, many of the faithful, who embody the sensus fidelium, are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd.
Fourth, the Church is one body, the Mystical Body of Christ, and you are commissioned by the Lord himself to promote and strengthen her unity. But your actions and words too often seem intent on doing the opposite. 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. Such synodality is unwise and, in practice, works against collegial unity among bishops.
Holy Father, this brings me to my final concern. You have often spoken about the need for transparency within the Church. You have 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. 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. 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.
I have often asked myself: “Why has Jesus let all of this happen?” 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 recognizing this darkness, the Church will humbly need to renew herself, and so continue to grow in holiness.
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.
Sincerely in Christ,
Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.
Father Weinandy’s full account of how his historic letter came to be written:
“Last May I was in Rome for an International Theological Commission meeting. I was staying at Domus Sanctae Marthae, and since I arrived early, I spent most of the Sunday afternoon prior to the meeting on Monday in Saint Peter’s praying in the Eucharistic Chapel.
I was praying about the present state of the Church and the anxieties I had about the present Pontificate. I was beseeching Jesus and Mary, St. Peter and all of the saintly popes who are buried there to do something to rectify the confusion and turmoil within the Church today, a chaos and an uncertainty that I felt Pope Francis had himself caused. I was also pondering whether or not I should write and publish something expressing my concerns and anxiety.
On the following Wednesday afternoon, at the conclusion of my meeting, I went again to St. Peter’s and prayed in the same manner. That night I could not get to sleep, which is very unusual for me. It was due to all that was on my mind pertaining to the Church and Pope Francis.
At 1:15 AM I got up and went outside for short time. When I went back to my room, I said to the Lord: “If you want me to write something, you have to give me a clear sign. This is what the sign must be. Tomorrow morning I am going to Saint Mary Major’s to pray and then I am going to Saint John Lateran. After that I am coming back to Saint Peter’s to have lunch with a seminary friend of mine. During that interval, I must meet someone that I know but have not seen in a very long time and would never expect to see in Rome at this time. That person cannot be from the United States, Canada or Great Britain. Moreover, that person has to say to me in the course of our conversation, ‘Keep up the good writing’.”
The next morning I did all of the above and by the time I met my seminarian friend for lunch what I had asked the Lord the following night was no longer in the forefront of my mind.
However, towards the end of the meal an archbishop appeared between two parked cars right in front of our table (we were sitting outside). I had not seen him for over twenty years, long before he became an archbishop. We recognized one another immediately. What made his appearance even more unusual was that, because of his recent personal circumstances, I would never have expected to see him in Rome or anywhere else, other than in his own archdiocese. (He was from none of the above mentioned countries.) We spoke about his coming to Rome and caught up on what we were doing. I then introduced him to my seminarian friend. He said to my friend that we had met a long time ago and that he had, at that time, just finished reading my book on the immutability of God and the Incarnation. He told my friend that it was an excellent book, that it helped him sort out the issue, and that my friend should read the book. Then he turned to me and said: “Keep up the good writing.”
I could hardly believe that this just happened in a matter of a few minutes. But there was no longer any doubt in my mind that Jesus wanted me to write something. I also think it significant that it was an Archbishop that Jesus used. I considered it an apostolic mandate.
So giving it considerable thought and after writing many drafts, I decided to write Pope Francis directly about my concerns. However, I always intended to make it public since I felt many of my concerns were the same concerns that others had, especially among the laity, and so I publicly wanted to give voice to their concerns as well.”