Fr. Weinandy was clear and direct. The USCCB was not.

The Bishops had the right – perhaps the duty – to require Fr. Weinandy’s resignation. Nevertheless, the Catholic faithful in every state of life in the Church have a right to know the Bishops’ mind in this regard, and Fr. Weinandy deserves at least a straightforward reproach.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Thomas Weinandy is pictured at the Washington headquarters of USCCB in this 2013 file photo (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec); right: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, right, speaks June 14 during the opening of the bishops' annual spring assembly in Indianapolis. Also pictured is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

When the former chief-of-staff of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine (and now former consultant to the same), Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., sent a private missive to Pope Francis on July 31st, he was taking a bold step: it is not a small thing to criticize the Vicar of Christ on Earth – to rebuke him, essentially, even if only in writing, and not “to his face” as St. Paul the Apostle did Peter.

Fr. Weinandy is a distinguished theologian and a member of the International Theological Commission, and as such, he certainly meets the standard set by Canon 212, which states:

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Even so, the exercise of a right, or the discharge of a duty upon which that right rests, is not without its perils, and Fr. Weinandy knew what he was doing when he wrote Pope Francis to tell him, among other things:

[Y]ou 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.

While Fr. Weinandy’s missive to Pope Francis on July 31st was not ostensibly conceived as a letter of resignation, its appearance before the public on November 1 meant that it might as well have been.

The Holy Father may yet prove tolerant of Fr. Weinandy’s temerity, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) swiftly moved to see that his official association with them be ended. Within hours of the letter’s appearance before the public, the Conference had required, and received, Fr. Weinandy’s resignation.

One may not fault the USCCB for requiring his resignation. For one thing, consultants have no responsibility, and serve at the pleasure. The Bishops were under no strict obligation to give a reason, nor would they have been, should they have determined to dismiss Fr. Weinandy (which, formally, they did not).

For another, the USCCB does work “in support of, and in affective collegiality with the Holy Father,” as the statement from the USCCB’s chief communications officer, James Rogers, announcing Fr. Weinandy’s resignation says. It is more than merely understandable that the Bishops should be less than perfectly confident in the counsel of a man who has so publicly declared what is certainly disappointment with the Holy Father’s record of leadership, and published what may be fairly characterized as criticism that dances on the edge of intemperance.

Had the Bishops said nothing, but only required and accepted Fr. Weinandy’s resignation, it is a fair bet the story of it would not have come to more than, “Dog bites man.”

We would have seen hotheads vent, and the lunatic fringe take up his “cause” for a day, but those heads were going to blow in any case, and the lunatic fringe these days will work itself into a frenzy over just about anything.

Fr. Weinandy, however, is neither a hothead, nor a member of the lunatic fringe. For a man of his character, accomplishment, and reputation to entertain such truculent language is, if nothing else, an indication of the depth and breadth of frustration within the Church.

Also, the Bishops were not silent.

The Bishops’ communications chief issued the aforementioned statement regarding Fr. Weinandy’s decision to step down – one that offered no detailed information about the conversation that preceded his tendering of his resignation, nor any direct explanation of the reason it was required. Within minutes (they were tweeted 14 minutes apart) of that statement’s release, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the USCCB, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, issued his own “reflection on dialogue within the Church” – one that began by noting Fr. Weinandy’s departure:

The departure today of Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., as a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine and the publication of his letter to Pope Francis gives [sic] us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of dialogue within the Church.

Cardinal DiNardo goes on to decry the tribalism and spirit of faction that have infected the public counsels in the Church and in society more broadly – and he is quite right to do so. Neat reductions, such as those one will find of this specific contretemps, e.g., “How dare you say the Pope doesn’t tolerate criticism? – You’re fired!” are just that: neat reductions, which do no party true justice, and tend to diminish our capacity for empathy – however genuine and even justified the sentiment that gives rise to the temptation to such reductions is.

Then, he lists a series of requisites for the proper conduct of public controversy within the Church, including – in primis – charity: then honesty and humility; presumption of good faith; finally, a spirit of collegiality, which it must be the particular care of the bishops and their organs to foster and in which the bishops and those who serve them must abide.

While wholly unexceptionable and even entirely praiseworthy in its substance, the context in which Cardinal DiNardo places the meat of his reflection makes the whole thing read rather as a list of standards against which Fr. Weinandy may or may not have been measured, and found wanting.

Since Cardinal DiNardo quoted in his rehearsal from St. Ignatius Loyola’s famous presupposition to the Spiritual Exercises, it is worthwhile to visit the ample quote, of which Cardinal DiNardo gave only a part:

In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.

If some of Fr. Weinandy’s remarks were strident, they were also candid, offered with the free spirit of parrhesia (for which Pope Francis has repeatedly called), and frankly, trenchant. It is difficult, therefore, to see how the manner in which the Bishops went about their business meets the exacting standards of charity and candidacy in dialogue, which the President of the USCCB so admirably rehearsed in his reflection, especially if we consider the portion of St. Ignatius’ presupposition, which Cardinal DiNardo omitted.

Invocation of the omitted portion, however, cuts both ways: we owe the Bishops the fairest possible construction of their actions and their statements regarding them, as well as the presumption of good faith and sound motives in the absence of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. We owe each other the same, and the Pope as well, above and before all.

The Bishops had the right – perhaps the duty – to require Fr. Weinandy’s resignation.

Nevertheless, the Catholic faithful in every state of life in the Church have a right to know the Bishops’ mind in this regard, and Fr. Weinandy deserves at least a straightforward reproach.

In short: If the USCCB believes that Fr. Weinandy failed to act according to their standards of propriety and civility, they ought to say so plainly, in words. Then, we would know – and be in a position to judge on the merits – what the mind of the Bishops is with regard to Fr. Weinandy’s foray into public criticism of the Holy Father. More important for the broader and urgently pressing issue of recovering and repairing ecclesial discourse, Cardinal DiNardo’s reflection could have served the purpose for which charitable reading and candid reception would have disposed a reader to receive it. Was such a declaration impossible? If so, why?

About Christopher R. Altieri 5 Articles

21 Comments

  1. Hmmmm, not feeling the mercy here….because their is none.
    It appears this loyal, respected theologian, who has well served the USCCB for some time, was spot on correct in his observations and conclusions detailed in his letter to the pope.
    God bless Fr Weinandy, a priest with a spine, a priest who writes honestly and clearly. That we had many more like him.

  2. I would imagine you would apply the same treatment to those holy, obedient defender of the faith who wrote the Dubia! This priest has every right to question the changes in the Magesterium that the Pope seems to want There are hardly any clerics with the conviction and love of the Church left, to defend the Word and teachings of Christ.

  3. “The presumption of good faith.”

    Yes, there’s the rub.

    “The presumption” can be “leveraged,” and abused, by distorting it, and insisting that, for persons in positions of authority, the “the presumption” is instead a permanent assumption, which cannot be overturned by evidence. This amounts to contempt, and is s government merely of men, and not a government of The Unchanging Lord.

    “Gaming the system.”

    Every pope should be given that presumption.

  4. A Charitable reading has more to do with adherence to truth not impossibility. Admonition to do so by Di Nardo is taking a moral position on AL v Weinandy’s concerns for the Church. A political rather than moral position. What Altieri suggests is the crux of the issue. The USCCB are morally required to be clear on what they believe. The salient reason is that the Church is splitting apart, many in are grave error and Hierarchy are neutral. Fearful and impotent. An example was Bishop’s Molino’s response to R Arroyo’s query on Fr Weinandy. The Bishop weakly defended his friend Weinandy citing only his orthodoxy and sincerity, yet refused to respond to Weinandy’s criticisms. He is intimidated like many good prelates. What Altieri suggests in the Bishops lack of clarity is not simply confusion but tacit approval of the Pontiff’s now obvious policy of revising the Gospel of Christ. The Apostle did not equivocate on change to the Gospel of Christ. “Even if an Angel of Light should preach to you a gospel other than what you received…” The Bishops have no moral right to remain civil and politically correct. For their salvation and that of their congregations they are obliged to respond directly and affirmatively on moral doctrine in line with Apostolic Tradition.

    • In deference to C Altieri’s question whether a reflection by Di Nardo on the issues addressed in Fr Weinandy’s letter was possible, while similarly rendering a charitable reading of AL it certainly is possible. And would have at least addressed and hopefully confirmed doctrine. Nonetheless there is division within the Bishops Conference and most are fearful of open discussion as are priests. The Bishops are not disposed to such a debate on addressing heterodox beliefs and practices that are given approbation by many prelates in the Conference and by the Pontiff.

    • Amen, you’ve stated it perfectly, Fr. Morello. I know how it feels to be questioned as Bishop Molino was on The World Over. One believes and knows what is right by God and by His True Church, but feels so inadequate to speak it boldly to a hostile world – and that with his amiable interviewer, Raymond Arroyo. How long before each member of the Church is put on the hot seat and forced to say “yea” or “nay”? Things are heating up very fast and I’m guessing we’re all going to have to choose God’s way or Pope Francis’ way very soon.

  5. So in other words, more questions that need to be answered to clear up the ambivalences and ambiguities of what the Bishops are up to. They seem to have taken a page from the Pope’s playbook. After 5 years of this papacy, we shouldn’t expect any changes in the mode and methods of his governance. In the meantime however, Fr Weinandy _must_ go … that much is crystal clear.

  6. I can see the RCC, specifically the USCCB, is so removed and have forgotten a pure fact of history that they are repeating it here. Is it not part of our faith in God/Jesus that each one of us who question something are to receive a response on matters of faith? Since when is it a sin to speak out? No, this is nothing more than a smack down for doing as such. This is why I have no faith in the clergy or the hierarchy in anything they do. My faith is in God and Jesus, not the “men” who follow their own hearts.

    • You’re faith should be in God through those men, not the men themselves. I mean, St. Paul wasn’t correcting the churches he established because he had free time on the internet, it was because as a bishop he had a responsibility to. Don’t get me wrong, there are Judas’s in the Church (Catholic Church, not just Roman) but we were warned of wolves in sheep’s clothing so seeing scandal is not a big deal because it isn’t the men that we follow but the Church’s teachings set forth by Christ himself. To remove oneself from the Eucharist because of the actions of men is heretical and not in the plan Christ set forth.

  7. Fr. Weinandy did not hide his light under a bushel basket unlike some prelates who only whisper the same sentiments privately out of fear or careerism.

  8. It is so strange to experience the negative treatment of Fr. Weinandy, in part because of his rightful concern for “change” in doctrine, when he has been so expert in recognizing what constitutes “change”, such as the lack of any “change” (potency) in God relative to the Incarnation (“Does God Change”?)

  9. Obviously a thoughtful essay by Mr Altieri. But he misses two important points. First, with a renegade pope, we are in uncharted waters. The rule book such as the excerpt from the Spiritual Exercises, certainly applies in all ordinary conflicts. But when people “start shooting” the rules do change. Second, DiNardo’s response, was not only not candid, as Altieri observes, it has the eiry and hollow ring of that same tune that we heard from the bishops before the pederasty crisis blew wide open. Let’s all be good little boys and girls, and keep our mouth shut, except to dialog with the bishop off the record, and all problems are solved…. NOT. Dialog ala DiNardo is a recipe for sweeping bombs under the rug. Old habits always reappear in times of crisis.

  10. Much better than rudely dismissing their expert priest on the Catholic doctrine, the USCCB should at least attempt to address his questions to Pope Francis. That would be a precious teaching and learning opportunity for everyone involved and interested in these matters. Our Catholic Faith, coming from the Divine Revelation and Wisdom, is perfectly reasonable. Therefore there is NEVER ever a need to bully into submission anyone raising legitimate concerns. Bullying makes the bullies look bad, and not for the reasonable concerns. Father Weinandy speaks for the majority of Catholics, both clergy and laity.

  11. Father Weinandy is very honest.
    I have the same concerns; he expresses them much better. I am just a lay woman. I do understand the faith, and I know that the faith does not change.
    HOWEVER, I have observed that many people who do not pay close attention to the faith, are very enthusiastic, thinking that the faith IS changing, because of Pope Francis. The people who WANT the Catholic Church to “get up-to-date and approve of the sexual revolution” are very encouraged, because FOR SOME REASON they get the impression that the pope is changing Catholic doctrine. They think that “Mercy” means “Anything Goes”. Where did they get THAT idea?

    • These are the same people who hoped that “Humanae Vitae” would come with a 20% discount coupon for contraceptives.

  12. You write: “The Bishops had the right – perhaps the duty – to require Fr. Weinandy’s resignation.” You think? In fact, when Fr. Weinandy released to the public his letter to Pope Francis, the request for Fr. Weinandy’s immediate resignation was perfectly appropriate. The act of releasing that letter to the public was surely imprudent at best.

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  2. L’Affaire Weinandy – Big Pulpit

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