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Why Did Fr. Weinandy Release His Letter?

November 13, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

From Brideshead Revisited:
“So Rex was sent to Farm Street to Father Mowbray, a priest renowned for his triumphs with obdurate catechumens. After the third interview he came to tea with Lady Marchmain.
“ ‘Well, how do you find my future son-in-law?’
“ ‘He’s the most difficult convert I have ever met.’
“ ‘Oh dear, I thought he was going to make it so easy.’
“ ‘That’s exactly it. I can’t get anywhere near him. He doesn’t seem to have the least intellectual curiosity or natural piety. . . .
“ ‘I gave him the catechism to take away. Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: “Just as many as you say, Father.”
“ ‘Then again I asked him: “Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain,’ would that be bound to happen?” “Oh yes, Father.” “But supposing it didn’t?” He thought for a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it”.’”

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Church teachings like infallibility can be complex and difficult to understand. Better disposed souls than the fictional Rex Mottram have struggled to comprehend them.
Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, a renowned theologian with no comprehension problems whatsoever, was fired November 1 from membership on the USCCB Committee on Doctrine after he published a critical letter he had sent on July 31 to Pope Francis.
Some of the main points Fr. Weinandy made are as follows (see Fr. Kevin M. Cusick’s column in last week’s issue):
“. . . A chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate.”
“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.”
“. . . 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.”
“. . . 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.”
Fr. Weinandy pointed to the Pope’s problematic choice of bishops: “men who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them.”
And, as Fr. Cusick explained it in his column, “Weinandy also warns the Holy Father of the silence on the part of many bishops resulting from their observation that he ‘resents’ criticism.”
Some sound commentators have questioned the advisability of Fr. Weinandy’s releasing his letter. Jacob Wood, a theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told Catholic News Agency November 1: “If Fr. Weinandy’s intention is fraternal correction, publishing his letter might not be the best way to go about it. 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.”
So, why did he publish his letter?
I do not know Fr. Weinandy and I cannot know his mind and motivations, but I sense that his core reason for doing so was concern for the souls of the everyday faithful.
As Weinandy wrote in the opening of his letter to Pope Francis, the “chronic confusion” “fosters within the faithful a growing unease. It compromises their capacity for love, joy and peace.”
And, in the passage about the Pope’s faulty choice of bishops and the failure to correct them: “This weakens the zeal of the many women and men who have championed authentic Catholic teaching over long periods of time, often at the risk of their own reputations and well-being. As a result, many of the faithful, who embody the sensus fidelium, are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd.”
Few of the faithful are theologians and they can only be all the more confused and demoralized by the endless debate about the status of the Pope’s more questionable statements. Amoris Laetitia, his post-synodal exhortation, is the most obvious example of this with its ambiguous statements on marriage and divorce. Is it or is it not authoritative, many of the faithful will continue to wonder. If the statements were not ambiguous, there would be no need for the debate.
By stating the problems with Francis’ writings and statements, Fr. Weinandy has let these people know they have not been abandoned. Weinandy told Crux 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.”
And with the respectful tone Fr. Weinandy took in addressing the Pope — whom he calls “Your Holiness” and the “Vicar of Christ on earth” — he helped give rattled Catholics reassurance that their faith is not in vain.
If it is not good for the faithful to have to make sense out of which of the Pope’s teachings are or are not infallible, it is also not beneficial for them to have to strain to figure out exactly what it is that the Pope is attempting to say.
This concern goes a long way back. LifeSiteNews reported on November 17, 2014: “In an interview with John Allen of Crux, Chicago’s retiring Cardinal Francis George acknowledges that some Catholics may indeed be anxious about Pope Francis since, he says, ‘If you don’t push it, he does seem to bring into question well-received doctrinal teaching’.”
George added that he had “no reason to believe” that the Pope doesn’t hold to the doctrine
But all this uncertainty can only depress and discourage faith. Some people will suffer from doubts. Others will decide that any doctrine they find burdensome or disagreeable is going to change, anyway, just like everything else in the Church. The end result is that some will just give up on the whole business.
Many are all too happy to be unburdened from religious obligations. That things no longer make sense will provide as good an excuse as any.
People don’t turn to religion looking for uncertainty — just the opposite. If all the “accompanying” and all the de-emphasis on solid doctrine are supposed to draw people back to the Church, it doesn’t seem to be happening. And if there is no certainty, how can the Catholic Church’s truth claims hold up?
Theological expertise isn’t required for salvation. St. John Vianney was a struggling student who almost didn’t get ordained because of his slowness. St. Joseph of Cupertino, a great mystic, served as the village idiot until his extraordinary gifts came to light.
But what is required is clear teaching from the top, from the Holy Father of the faithful.
As I write this, I’ve just begun reading Fr. Weinandy’s Athanasius and His Legacy: Trinitarian-Incarnational Soteriology and Its Reception (co-written by Daniel A. Keating and published in 2017). It’s a lucid and beautiful book, showing how St. Athanasius was motivated by deep faith and love to plumb the depths of the Trinitarian mystery. Fr. Weinandy also explains Athanasius’ opponent: “Arius was not a systematic thinker.” The book is available at Highly recommended!
With all that in mind, I will finish by quoting from Fr. John Hunwicke (a former Anglo-Catholic clergyman who was ordained a Catholic priest in 2012) in a November 2 blog:
“I very much regret that I have never met Fr. Thomas Weinandy, whose letter to PF [Pope Francis] has just been published. He is a distinguished American theologian; he was in Oxford for a decade or two. . . . He was Warden of Greyfriars, a Permanent Private Hall of the University, and for a time Chairman of the Theology Faculty.
“The fact that the American Episcopal Conference, within minutes, sacked him from being a Consultor of their Doctrine Committee must indicate that America is awash with brilliant theologians. If that Conference really can so easily do without someone of his standing. . . .
“It must also indicate that the USA Episcopal Conference is dominated by very little men. God bless the dear little fellows.
“This cheap and vulgar ritual humiliation exemplifies the extent to which PF is presiding over a bully-boy Church in which midget bishops and minicardinals compete to defeat each other in the sycophancy stakes. Just as Tom Weinandy has, in effect, just said.
“The young Weinandy was taught at Kings, London, by the great Anglican Thomist Canon Professor Eric Mascall, which gives him a link with our great Anglican Patrimony.
“I like to think that his action redeems the honour of the American Church, just as the courageous lecture given in August by Fr. Aidan Nichols redeemed that of the English Church. Nichols is an Oxford man (Cardinal College) and Weinandy is Oxonian by adoption, so I feel that dear S. Frideswide Universitatis specialis adiutrix must be quietly satisfied that, despite the demonic spirit of secularisation at work in modern Oxford, some of her lads have turned out good during this unparalleled crisis in the Church Militant. Floreat Oxonia.”

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