Pope Francis is not causing confusion

Capuchin Fr Thomas Weinandy made public a letter he wrote criticizing Pope Francis for creating “chronic confusion” among faithful Catholics. He then, resigned from his post as consultant to the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference (USCCB).

Nov 17, 2017

Capuchin Fr Thomas Weinandy made public a letter he wrote criticizing Pope Francis for creating “chronic confusion” among faithful Catholics. He then, resigned from his post as consultant to the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference (USCCB).

In response to Weinandy’s resignation, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, as President of the USCCB, wrote about “the nature of dialogue within the Church.” He opinioned, that all must acknowledge that “legitimate differences exist, and that it is the work of the Church, the entire body of Christ, to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.”

But we ask where was DiNardo’s plea for dialogue and understanding when Weinandy, as head of the US bishops’ Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs, was building cases against theologians like Sr Elizabeth Johnson and Fr Peter Phan and also against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Where was the “Christian charity” then? To paraphrase the quote DiNardo used from St Ignatius of Loyola, where was the presumption of the Christian neighbour’s good intent?

Weinandy was, in fact, following the directions of the bishops who hired him. What a twist of fate that Weinandy, whose tenure as doctrinal chief has been described by theologians as antagonistic and marked by “prosecutorial zeal,” is now among the dissenters. He is finding the outside an uncomfortable place to be.

Of course, Weinandy was only replicating at the US bishops’ conference what was going on in Vatican offices, not the least at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in corralling theologians and keeping bishops in lockstep with Rome.

The stories of Vatican investigations of theologians like Jesuit Fr Jacques Dupuis and Sri Lankan Oblate Fr Tissa Balasuriya, as well as the stories of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle and Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, Australia, both bishops beloved by the people in their dioceses have been well-documented.

Francis has largely stopped these kinds of investigations.

We, in fact, would defend a person who seeks true dialogue and engagement. That is the way, in DiNardo’s words, “to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.”

We will, however, find fault with a person who pleads for understanding and dialogue when he never offered that to others. We will also question a person who is less than genuine with that criticism.

We have seen a lot of criticism of Francis recently and Weinandy is the latest. Before him there were the so-called four dubia cardinals and among them was Raymond Burke. He has granted numerous media interviews saying he plans to issue a fraternal correction of the Pope if the Holy Father refuses to respond to the dubia. They all say that those questioning Francis do so for the good of the Church, the papacy and the individual souls of the faithful.

All this “weighs very heavily on my heart,” says Burke adding that he has seen “a great deal of confusion, also people feeling that the Church is not a secure point of reference.”

If any Catholics are feeling confused, it is not because of Francis; it is because of Burke and Weinandy and their ilk. They sow the confusion they condemn. They claim they want dialogue, but they don’t. They want to be in charge and they are not.

People in that corner of the Catholic community have, for the last 25 years, sought a “purer Church.” They have said that if the Church has to be smaller to be authentic, let it be smaller. They have been the keepers of the narrow gate. They resent that Francis is throwing open doors and trying to knock down walls. They have presided over the diminishment of the Church, and they can’t stand that Francis wants all people in the loving embrace of the Church.

Francis is the most popular pope in living memory, probably in history, and that galls them.

What DiNardo didn’t say is that there is a wider leadership problem in the US Church. We are at a time of massive social upheaval on many levels. The daily news is filled with tales of gun violence and a pervasive culture of sexual violence running through many of our institutions. People are losing confidence in the democratic foundations upon which our society was built. People are afraid that if they lose their jobs they won’t find new work and that they won’t be able to give their children adequate education, that if anyone in the family falls sick they won’t be able to afford healthcare.

Many of these are public policy issues that involve civic solutions, but underlying them all are questions about humanity and spirituality, questions about faith and hope. On these underlying questions, we look to our bishops not for answers, but for guidance, and we find them lacking. We look to them for accompaniment on this journey and we find them absent.

Francis, on the other hand, talks about how the greatest tragedy of today is a “spiritual sclerosis” and “sclerosis of the heart.” He understands the general anxiety of our times and can, as a pastor, talk about it. He offers to walk with us. Catholics — and many non-Catholics — are not confused by this, they are captivated by it.

That is what DiNardo didn’t say but should have.

(This article first appeared on NCRonline.org, the Website of National Catholic Reporter, and is being used with permission)

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