Today, 24 February, there comes to us from Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy, the highly respected U.S. theologian and papal critic, yet another statement about the papacy of Francis and its divisive effects. The Italian Vatican specialist Sandro Magister published today Fr. Weinandy’s speech on this issue, which he gave today at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia.
In his speech, Fr. Weinandy characterizes the pope’s approach as causing division rather than unity:
At times it would appear that Pope Francis identifies himself not as the promoter of unity but as the agent of division. His practical philosophy, if it is an intentional philosophy, seems to consist in the belief that a greater unifying good will emerge from the present bedlam of divergent opinions and the turmoil of the resulting divisions.
As Fr. Weinandy argues, the very fact that the pope causes confusion and division is effectively undermining the Petrine office, which properly aims, by its mission, to foster unity in the Faith. He says:
My concern here is that such approach, even if unintentional, strikes at very essence of the Petrine ministry as intended by Jesus and as 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 principal defender and promoter of the Church’s ecclesial communion[.]
In the following, Fr. Weinandy explains that Pope Francis effectively undermines all four marks of the Church – that is, her unique oneness, her holiness, her apostolicity, and her catholicity.
With regard to the Church’s apostolocity, he has the following to say:
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.
Such a papal teaching that now “contravenes what had been the received apostolic teaching and magisterial tradition of the Church … cannot then be proposed as magisterial teaching,” explains Fr Weinandy.
Moreover, he highlights that the pope’s support of synodality leads in practice to diverging episcopal decisions and directions that thus undermine the Church’s universality. The theologian notices “the disintegration of the Church’s catholicity,” since “local Churches, both on the diocesan and national level[s], are often interpreting doctrinal norms and moral precepts in various conflicting and contradictory ways.” (Here comes to mind the German bishops’ decision to admit Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion.)
According to Fr. Weinandy, the new approach under Pope Francis to admit some “remarried” divorcées to Holy Communion is effectively undermining the holiness of the Church in her respect for the Eucharist. He explains:
Here we perceive the present challenge to the Church’s holiness and specifically the holiness of the Eucharist. The question of whether divorced and remarried Catholic couples who engage in marital acts, can receive communion revolves around the very issue of “outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm,” and, therefore, whether they possess “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition” for receiving communion.
Fr. Weinandy makes it clear that the new approach in this matter will soon become “common practice” and thus will lead to the situation that “almost every divorced and remarried couple will judge themselves free to receive Holy Communion.” Thus, he explains, “negative commands,” such as adultery, will no longer be “recognized as absolute moral norms.” This kind of development will not only affect the holiness of the Church, but also “belittle the condemnatory evil of grave sin and … malign the magnitude and power of the Holy Spirit.”
Fr. Weinandy concludes as follows:
Such a pastoral practice is implicitly acknowledging that sin continues to govern humankind despite Jesus’[s] redeeming work and his anointing of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe and are baptized. Jesus is actually not Savior and Lord, but rather Satan continues to reign.
Such condoning of sin, adds the theologian, is endangering the salvation of souls and even insulting the grave sinner: the sinner is so bad “that not even the Holy Spirit is powerful enough” to help him change his ways. Effectively, the Church is shown not to be holy enough to be able to help the sinners.
Fr. Weinandy ends his speech with the following powerful and piercing words:
Lastly, scandal is the public pastoral consequence of allowing persons in unrepentant manifest grave sin to receive Holy Communion. It is not simply that the faithful members of the Eucharistic community will be dismayed and likely disgruntled, but, more importantly, they will be tempted to think that they too can sin gravely and continue in good standing with the Church. Why attempt to live a holy life, even a heroic virtuous life, when the Church herself appears to demand neither such a life, nor even to encourage such a life? Here the Church becomes a mockery of herself and such a charade breeds nothing but scorn and disdain in the world, and derision and cynicism among the faithful, or, at best, a hope against hope among the little ones.