The Church’s unity, apostolicity and Catholicity are under attack from its own leadership, the former head of the US bishops’ doctrinal committee has said.
Fr Thomas Weinandy, a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, said the Church’s “four defining ecclesial marks” – the fact it is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” as defined in the Nicene Creed – are currently under a “subtle, but well-defined attack”. That threat is coming, he added, “regrettably from within Church leadership.”
In a speech at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia on February 24, Fr Weinandy called for a “robust defence” of the four marks, otherwise the Church’s identity will become “disordered”, which will “enfeeble” its ability to proclaim the Gospel.
“This enfeeblement, then, will also be most visibly enacted within the Eucharistic liturgy which will not only cause scandal but also, and more importantly, demean the Eucharistic liturgy as the supreme enactment of the Church being One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic,” Fr Weinandy added.
Although the Church after Vatican II has been “rife with divisions”, there was never any doubt over official Church doctrine during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he said.
“Such is not the case, in many significant ways, within the present pontificate of Pope Francis.”
Although much of Pope Francis’s pontificate is “admirable and praiseworthy”, he has at times appeared to identify himself “not as the promoter of unity but as the agent of division,” Fr Weinandy said
Much of this division stems from the fact some bishops have used Amoris Laetitia to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
“For Pope Francis … as seen in Amoris Laetitia, to re-conceive and newly express the previously clear apostolic faith and magisterial tradition in a seemingly ambiguous manner, so as to leave confusion and puzzlement within the ecclesial community, is to contradict his own duties as the successor of Peter and to transgress the trust of his fellow bishops, as well as that of priests and the entire faithful,” Fr Weinandy said.
The Pope’s approach “strikes at the very essence of the Petrine ministry as intended by Jesus and continuously understood by the Church”.
“The successor of St Peter, by the very nature of the office, is to be, literally, the personal embodiment and thus the consummate sign of the Church’s ecclesial communion, and so the principle defender and promoter of the Church’s ecclesial communion,” he said.
“Thus, a manner of proceeding that allows and even encourages doctrinal and moral divergences undermines the whole of Vatican II’s teaching on ecclesial communion, as well as that of the entire magisterial and theological tradition going back to Ignatius.
“By seeming to encourage doctrinal division and moral discord within the Church the present pontificate has transgressed the foundational mark of the Church – her oneness.”
Pope Francis’s “ambiguous teaching at times appears to fall outside the magisterial teaching of the historic apostolic ecclesial community” as it “fosters division and disharmony rather than unity and peace within the one apostolic Church. There appears to be, as a consequence, no assurance of faith.”
In some ways, this is even worse than promoting heresy, Fr Weinandy added.
“At least heresy is a clear denial of the apostolic faith and so can be clearly identified and as such properly addressed. Ambiguous teaching, precisely because of its murkiness, cannot be clearly identified, and so is even more troublesome for it fosters uncertainty as to how it is to be understood and thus how it is to be clarified.”
The Church’s catholicity is also being undermined by Pope Francis’s concept of synodality, Fr Weinandy continued, which creates a kind of “theological anarchy”.
“We are presently witnessing the disintegration of the Church’s catholicity, for local churches, both on the diocesan and national level, are often interpreting doctrinal norms and moral precepts in various conflicting and contradictory ways. Thus, what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in one diocese or country is not in conformity with what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in another diocese or country,” Fr Weinandy said.
The Church’s holiness is also “under siege”, especially regarding the Eucharist.
Allowing some civilly remarried couples to receive Holy Communion while not living in continence allows a “pastoral situation to evolve” in which “almost every divorced and remarried couple will judge themselves free to receive Holy Communion.”
The moral commandments thus become no longer absolute laws but simply “ideals”. The result is an “overt public attack on the holiness of what John Paul terms ‘the Most Holy Sacrament’.”
Any priest who allows someone who persists in grave sin to receive Communion implicitly acknowledges that “sin continues to govern humankind despite Jesus’ redeeming work,” Fr Weinandy added.
“To allow those who persist in manifest grave sin to receive communion, seemingly as an act of mercy, is both to belittle the condemnatory evil of grave sin and to malign the magnitude and power of the Holy Spirit.”
“The Church’s very identity, our ecclesial communion, is being assailed, and because she is the Church of Christ, Jesus himself is being dishonoured along with his saving work,” Fr Weinandy concluded. “What is presently being offered in its place is an anaemic Church, a Church where the Holy Spirit is enfeebled, and so a Church that is incapable of giving full glory to God the Father.”
Fr Weinandy was sacked by the US bishops in November after sending an open letter to Pope Francis in which he said the current papacy was marked by a “chronic confusion”. He also accused the Pope of teaching with a “seemingly intentional lack of clarity”.