(RNS) — The Rev. Thomas Weinandy has resigned as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine after writing a letter to Pope Francis accusing him of fomenting "chronic confusion" as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.[ad number="1"]
The letter and the writer's subsequent departure as a longtime top adviser to the bishops are the latest salvos in a struggle that pits traditionalists such as Weinandy against those who appreciate what they perceive as Francis' more welcoming approach — especially on such controversial topics as homosexuality.
"Who am I to judge?" Francis has said when asked a question about gay priests in the church, which considers sex between same-sex partners a sin.
In his letter, written in July and published online Wednesday (Nov. 1) by Crux, Weinandy offers several examples of what he sees as "the ambiguity of (Francis') words and actions." That includes the "seemingly intentional lack of clarity" in the pope's apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” or "The Joy of Love."
The document has drawn criticism from conservative Catholics since it was published in spring 2016 over its encouragement to the church to "accompany" all families, not just those that conform to the ideals of the Catholic catechism.
The priest also said that the pontiff's manner seems to "demean the importance of Church doctrine" and that the bishops he has appointed "seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them."
And he accused the pope of undermining church unity, in word and deed, and of making bishops around the world afraid to speak their minds.
"Many of the faithful ... are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd," Weinandy wrote.[ad number="2"]
In a statement released Wednesday, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said Weinandy's letter and resignation give "an opportunity to reflect on the nature of dialogue within the Church" and that the conference is "in strong unity with and loyalty to the Holy Father."
That last statement — in which DiNardo seemed to feel the conference needed to assert its loyalty to the pope — was noted by Michael O'Loughlin, who writes for America Magazine, which is generally supportive of Francis.
O'Loughlin tweeted after Weinandy's resignation was announced: "That the USCCB felt it needed to issue this statement is perhaps more telling than the content of it, it seems to me."
That the USCCB felt it needed to issue this statement is perhaps more telling than the content of it, it seems to me.
— Michael J O'Loughlin (@MikeOLoughlin) November 1, 2017
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, told RNS the bishops' response to Weinandy's letter was "thoroughly inadequate."
"It's part of an ongoing reckoning in which you have certain conservative ideologues who believe their interpretation of the church teaching was the only available church interpretation, as epitomized by Father Weinandy’s attacking very fine theologians over the years," when he was on the staff of the doctrine committee, Winters said.[ad number="3"]
That opposition has been simmering among conservative Catholics for some time, he said.
Recently, it's come to a head as more than 60 Catholic theologians, priests and academics signed on to a “filial correction” to Pope Francis, accusing him of spreading heresy in "Amoris Laetitia."
And traditionalist Catholics have rallied online to get the Rev. James Martin — whose latest book urges dialogue between Catholics and the LGBT community — disinvited from speaking engagements.
Those opposed to Francis have also been blamed for "New Pro-Life Movement" co-founder Rebecca Bratten Weiss' losing her adjunct teaching job at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
While opposition to Francis is strong in some Catholic circles, Winters said, it's not widespread.
"Pope Francis is probably the most popular person in the history of the human race," he said.
Weinandy, a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, is one of two Americans on the Vatican's International Theological Commission and previously served as executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine.
He told Crux he did not write the letter in an official capacity, but after praying for a sign he should speak up while in Rome in May for a meeting of the International Theological Commission. He prayed he'd run into someone he hadn't seen in a long time, and that person would tell him, "Keep up the good writing."
When that happened, he said, "There was no longer any doubt in my mind that Jesus wanted me to write something."
He provided copies of the letter to Crux and other Catholic media outlets after receiving word his letter had been delivered to the pope.