WASHINGTON — A member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission has resigned his position as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, following the publication of a letter written to Pope Francis asking the Pope to correct the “chronic confusion” of his pontificate, which he says “fosters within the faithful a growing unease.”
Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, who previously served as executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine, sent the five-page letter to Pope Francis July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Father Weinandy told Crux that he sent the letter after a powerful experience of discernment convinced him that “Jesus wanted me to write something” that would “be of help to Pope Francis, to the Church and to the faithful.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, James Rogers, chief communications officer of the bishops’ conference, said that, “after speaking with the general secretary of the conference today, Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., has resigned, effective immediately, from his position as consultant to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. 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.”
Father Weinandy’s letter, published by Crux on Wednesday, addressed five points. The priest told the Pope that his pontificate had fostered confusion; diminished the importance of doctrine in the Church’s life; appointed bishops who teach and act in harmful ways; fostered a culture of fear among bishops; and caused faithful Catholics to lose confidence in the papacy.
The letter also expressed Father Weinandy’s “love for the Church and sincere respect” for the office of the Pope. The priest expressed hope that by recognizing “darkness, the Church will humbly need to renew herself, and so continue to grow in holiness.”
Dominican Father Thomas Petri, academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA that Father Weinandy “is a theologian of the highest caliber” and that the “letter to His Holiness is quite obviously written with a deep filial piety and loyalty to both our Holy Father Pope Francis and to the Church.”
“There is no need to continue to litigate theological points in the public square, and so Father Weinandy says directly, but, I think, charitably, what he believes is on many people’s minds. Many priests are confronted daily by members of the lay faithful expressing confusion and concern in reports they read or hear about Pope Francis and his advisers,” Father Petri added.
Chad Pecknold, professor of theology at The Catholic University of America, agreed. Father Weinandy “is arguably the most distinguished Franciscan theologian working in the English language today,” Pecknold told CNA. “He is a theologian centered in the Church, and not at all at her outermost fringe. So his letter carries the weight of the center.”
“Rather than presume to correct, Father Weinandy describes the current situation and informs the Holy Father that what seems to many like ‘intentionally ambiguous’ teaching has led to confusion, leading some of his own advisers to publicly advance error. … There is something admirable about the impassioned plea of a son of St. Francis writing to Pope Francis, in truth and love, as a son to a father. His love for the Pope is evident throughout his appeal.”
While Pecknold called Father Weinandy’s letter “deferential,” he told CNA “it is certainly reasonable to ask whether it should have been published in the media.”
Jacob Wood, theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, raised similar concerns.
“If Father Weinandy’s intention is fraternal correction, publishing his letter might not be the best way to go about it,” Wood told CNA. “It is easy for our intentions to get warped when treated in the mass media by people who don’t share the perspective of faith. There does exist some danger of scandal.”
Father Weinandy told Crux that he published the letter because it “expresses the concerns of many more people than just me, ordinary people who’ve come to me with their questions and apprehensions,” adding: “I wanted them to know that I listened.”
R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine and formerly a professor of theology at Creighton University, told CNA that publishing letters like Father Weinandy’s can be helpful to Catholics.
“Weinandy’s letter is an attempt to clearly state problems we face,” Reno said.
“Everyone in the Church has a role — priests, laity and bishops — and each of us is going to have to make a discernment how best to serve the Church in the current climate. We have to discuss how to move forward in this pontificate as loyal members of the Church,” he said, adding that Father Weinandy’s letter is a helpful catalyst for such discussion.
Reno also said that publicizing letters like Father Weinandy’s “aids people who are in positions of responsibility” in the Church, “providing some support for those who want to address the challenges the Church is facing.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon “on the nature of dialogue within the Church,” which he said was occasioned by the publication of Father Weinandy’s letter and his resignation. Cardinal DiNardo said that theological debates are often the subject of media attention, which “is to be expected and is often good.”
Cardinal DiNardo added that theologians and bishops should make every effort to interpret the Holy Father’s teaching charitably and that all Catholics should “acknowledge that legitimate differences exist” among Catholics “and that it is the work of the Church, the entire Body of Christ, to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.”
Capuchin Father Charles Sammons told CNA that he lived with Father Weinandy in 2015.
“I experienced Father Thomas as an uncomplicated and earnest person who simply loved the Lord and his Church and didn't seem to have many concerns apart from that. I remarked to myself more than once that this seemed like a blessed way to live,” Father Sammons told CNA.
Father Sammons said that time with Father Weinandy “had been given to me as a grace of good example for my own religious life as a Capuchin friar.”