The widely respected theologian Fr Thomas Weinandy stepped down as an adviser to the US bishops’ committee on doctrine after writing a letter accusing Pope Francis of fostering “chronic confusion” with “intentionally ambiguous” teachings. He resigned on the day the letter was made public after a phone call from the conference’s general secretary, Mgr Brian Bransfield. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in a statement that “Christian charity needs to be exercised by all” in Church dialogue.
What Catholics are saying
Commentators agreed that Fr Weinandy’s intervention was significant. “He is arguably the most distinguished Franciscan theologian working in the English language today,” said Chad Pecknold, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America. “He is a theologian centred in the Church, and not at all at her outermost fringe. So his letter carries the weight of the centre.”
Many writers praised the “deferential” tone of the letter. Dr Michael Sirilla, writing at Catholic World Report, said the “irony meter broke” when Fr Weinandy was asked to resign for respectfully pointing out that, under Pope Francis, the “faithful fear being punished for expressing criticisms”.
Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter declared that, far from being respectful, the letter showed an “appalling” lack of humility. Winters criticised Cardinal DiNardo’s response for failing to distinguish between “Weinandy’s malicious ranting and the Holy Father’s magisterial teaching”.
Fr Raymond de Souza, at the National Catholic Register, agreed that the cardinal seemed to include Pope Francis and those around him in his plea for “Christian charity”. He said a “culture of rebuke” had taken hold of the Church under Francis – and that it was a “deliberate pastoral choice”. He cited the Pope’s railing against the “spiritual diseases” of the Curia and his criticism of priests “locked up in small-minded rules”. These rebukes may follow Jesus’s own ministry, Fr de Souza said, but they need to be balanced by charity, too.
✣Burmese bishops ‘very anxious’ about papal visit
A spokesman for the bishops of Burma said the visit by Pope Francis later this month was “keeping us very anxious”. Fr Mariano Soe Naing, the bishops’ communications director, said: “Many things can go wrong. A wrong word from the Holy Father can plunge the country into chaos” – in particular, he said, if the Pope mentioned the Rohingya.
Why was it under-reported?
The papal visit is still two weeks away (it starts on November 27) and it has yet to become a subject in the media. But the remarks by Fr Soe Naing are astonishing. Normally Church officials stick to the positive when it comes to papal visits, not stress the risks. Fr Soe Naing explained: “If the Holy Father in his speech evens mentions the Rohingya, the nationalist groups will respond. This is a historic problem … We cannot just say this or that.” The word “Rohingya” is not allowed in Burma, Fr Soe Naing said. Rohingya, seen as foreigners, are referred to as Bengalis.
What will happen next?
Pope Francis has a history of speaking up for the Rohingya. In February he said they had been “tortured and killed simply because they uphold their Muslim faith”. In August he expressed his “full closeness” to them and asked that they be given their “full rights”. (Here he appeared to ignore a request made by Burma’s bishops via the nuncio that he avoid the term “Rohingya”.) This provoked fury in Burma, according to Fr Soe Naing. However, it seems unlikely that the Pope will shy away from the subject during his trip.
✣The week ahead
Traditionalist Sisters are coming to Preston. The Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest, the female branch of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, will take up residence at St Augustine’s Presbytery, Avenham, on Sunday. Bishop Michael Campbell will celebrate Benediction at 3pm – all are welcome.
Bishop Marcus Stock of Leeds will celebrate a Requiem Mass in the Extraordinary Form tomorrow. The Pontifical High Mass for deceased bishops will be held at Leeds cathedral. Bishop Stock is one of only a few bishops to celebrate Mass in the older form.
A museum featuring a replica of the Vatican Library will open in Washington DC next weekend. The Museum of the Bible, a $500m project funded by the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby, offers walk-through recreations of the ancient world –including a garden of biblical plants – as well as fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the floors is devoted to Catholicism.