Father Thomas Weinandy: Threat of Church Division ‘Growing in Intensity’

Father Weinandy calls on the Catholic faithful to pray “in fear and trembling” that Jesus might “deliver us from this trial.”

Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy
Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy (photo: Register Files)

The Catholic Church is heading toward an “internal papal schism” whereby Pope Francis effectively leads two opposing factions, Capuchin theologian Father Thomas Weinandy has warned.

These are divided, he said, into one loyal to the papacy yet critical of this pontificate, and the other supportive of him due to his tolerance of ambiguous teaching and pastoral practice.

“This is the real schism,” observed Father Weinandy, a former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops' doctrinal committee, in a commentary published today in The Catholic Thing.

It is a situation “ever growing in intensity,” he added.

A member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Father Weinandy began by clarifying that he believes when the Pope refers to contemporary schismatics in the Church, he means his American critics.

But he pointed out that the “overwhelming majority” of those critics “would never initiate a schism” as they wish to remain faithful to the Pope, even if that means being critical of him.

The Capuchin also believes that the German Church would also not go into schism, despite their bishops’ wish to take their faithful down a “binding” synodal path contrary to the universal tradition of the Church.

They would not break away, he believes, because they would lose their Catholic identity, something they could not afford, and will, in any case Father Weinandy believes, be allowed to pursue ambiguous teaching and practice as it is “in accord with Francis’ own.”

Placing the German situation in the broader context of such controversies as Amoris Laetitia, advancing the homosexual agenda, refounding the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, and an Amazon Synod “teeming” with participants sympathetic to such ambiguous teaching, Father Weinandy said the Church finds herself in a situation “she never expected.”

On the one hand is a “majority of the world’s faithful” loyal to the Pope because “he is their pontiff” but “critical of his pontificate,” and on the other is a “large contingent” of the world’s faithful who support him because he “allows and fosters their ambiguous teaching and ecclesial practice,” he noted.

“What the Church will end up with, then, is a pope who is the Pope of the Catholic Church and, simultaneously, the de facto leader, for all practical purposes, of a schismatic church.

“Because he is the head of both, the appearance of one Church remains, while in fact there are two,” he observed.


‘Internal Papal Schism’

“The only phrase that I can find to describe this situation is ‘internal papal schism,’” Father Weinandy explained, “for the pope, even as pope, will effectively be the leader of a segment of the Church that through its doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesial structure, is for all practical purposes schismatic.”

The Capuchin systematic theologian added that this is the “real schism that is in our midst and must be faced,” but he did not believe Pope Francis to be “in any way afraid of this schism.”

“As he is in control, he would, I fear, welcome it, for he sees the schismatic element as the new ‘paradigm’ for the future Church,” he said.

Father Weinandy called on the faithful to pray “in fear and trembling” that Jesus might “deliver us from this trial,” but added that the Lord may want us to endure it, because only perhaps then may the Church “be freed from all the sin and corruption that now lies within her, and be made holy and pure.”

He ended on a “hopeful note,” saying it will be up to the laity to “bring about the needed purification” and, in particular, “faithful and courageous Catholic women” whom he called “the living icons of the Church.”

Father Weinandy has been one of the frankest critics of this pontificate.

In 2017, he wrote an open letter to Pope Francis saying he was causing “chronic confusion,” committing “calumny” against some of its critics, and risked “sinning against the Holy Spirit” because of his “seemingly intentional lack of clarity.”

He said he decided to write the letter after much prayer, internal struggle, and asking the Lord for a “clear sign” which he received.

Critics such as John Gehring said Father Weinandy and others were “self-styled guardians of orthodoxy” who did not understand that the Pope is “rescuing doctrine” by insisting that “human beings, in all our complexity and messiness, must be at the center of the Church’s vision.”  

Last year, Father Weinandy gave a speech in Australia calling on the faithful to recognize that the Church’s “unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity” were under attack by the Church’s current leadership.