St. Ignatius of Loyola closes his Spiritual Exercises with eighteen rules for thinking with the Church, which he says will help us to have the right attitude toward the Church, the Spouse of Christ and our Holy Mother. The first of these rules is that we should put aside our own judgment to obey the authentic teachings of the Church hierarchy.
Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy may have had St. Ignatius’s rules in mind when he wrote a letter to Pope Francis dated July 31, 2017, the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Pope Francis, a Jesuit, surely knows these eighteen rules for thinking with the Church. The question, however, is whether he has taken them to heart since his actions and words often appear to criticize and undermine the authentic teachings of the Church, as well as those who actually do think with the Church and defend her authentic teachings.
The pope’s actions have prompted four prominent cardinals to request a response from the pope to questions about the content of his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, which the pope has not answered, although some suggest he has done so informally. In addition, a group of clergy and scholars recently released a filial correction of the pope that suggests he has advanced heretical views in the exhortation and in other opinions.
In well-chosen and respectful words, Fr. Weinandy’s letter clearly suggests that Pope Francis is not thinking with the Church and that he has confused the faithful.
An article by Edward Pentin on the National Catholic Register website includes the full text of the letter. An article on the Crux website, which also includes the full text, states that Fr. Weinandy released the letter to media on November 1 after being assured that his letter had been received. Crux also reports that Weinandy was not asked to sign the recent public correction of the pope and that he says he wouldn’t have signed it.
Fr. Weinandy’s criticism of the pope carries much weight. He is a specialist in Christology and has taught at a number of universities, including Franciscan, Georgetown, Mount Saint Mary’s, and Oxford, as well as Loyola College of Baltimore. He currently teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington and the Gregorian University in Rome.
Fr. Weinandy has a long list of publications, including Jesus: Essays in Christology, which was published in 2014 by Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University. From 2005 to 2013, he was Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Pope Francis has recognized Fr. Weinandy’s work on behalf of the papacy and the Church with one of the Church’s highest honors, and three years ago he appointed him to a five-year term on the International Theological Commission.
In his letter, Fr. Weinandy tells the pope that “a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate.” Amoris laetitia is of particular concern since some read the document as adhering to the Church’s traditional teachings on marriage and divorce while others believe it suggests a change in the Church’s traditional teaching and allows the divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion.
Fr. Weinandy is dismayed by the pope’s characterization of traditionalists as “Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism.” Such personal attacks, he says, mask weak arguments. He notes: “This kind of calumny is alien to the nature of the Petrine ministry.”
Fr. Weinandy also laments behavior of the pope that he says seems to demean Church doctrine, and he reminds the pope that those who devalue doctrine “separate themselves from Jesus, the author of truth.” Once separated from Christ, they “possess … an ideology – one that conforms to the world of sin and death.”
The pope has disconcerted and scandalized the faithful by selecting as bishops some “men who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them.”
Furthermore, the pope seems to be promoting disunity and confusion through his understanding of “a form of ‘synodality’ that allows and promotes various doctrinal and moral options within the Church.”
Many bishops are silent, Fr. Weinandy writes, because they fear reprisal: “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.”
Interestingly, Pentin updated his post in the National Catholic Register with the news that Catholic World Report has reported that the U.S. bishops have asked Fr. Weinandy to resign as a consultant and he has complied. CWR notes that the news underscores the fear of bishops.
CWR also has published comments by Fr. Weinandy about how he came to write his letter. His comments are poignant. He explains that he wrote the letter only after receiving what he believes is a clear sign from Our Lord that he should do so, one that gave him an apostolic mandate. He also says that he would not have published the letter if the pope had responded.
At the end of his letter Fr. Weinandy says he believes the Lord has allowed this confusion in the Church to happen to bring out of the darkness and into the light the weak faith of many within the Church, including bishops. This, he says, will help renew the Church. He tells the pope that he prays that the Holy Spirit will lead him to the light of truth so that he can help dispel the darkness from the Church.
Fr. Weinandy’s eloquent and courageous letter should encourage all who seek to stand firm in the true teachings of the Church and expect the Church hierarchy to do the same.