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A Catholic Theologian’s View of the Pope

November 14, 2017
P. Thomas G. Weinandy.

Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy published, on October 31, 2017, a letter he wrote to Pope Francis on July 31, in which he reproached the Pope for being one of the causes of the confusion present within the Church. This 71-year-old monk has taught in numerous American universities, at Oxford for 12 years, and at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Contacted on November 1 by the Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for whom he was a doctrinal consultant, his resignation was made public the same day. Here are the sections of his letter that must have brought about his resignation.

With regard to 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.”

Furthermore, “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.”

At the end of his letter, Fr. Weinandy notes the silence of bishops and explains it in these words: “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.”

The resignation of this theologian as doctrinal consultant to the American bishops’ conference gives the definite impression that his view on the fearful attitude of bishops is correct.