A Theologian Resigns

I see some concern on the part of a high-ranking USCCB theologian/employee being asked to submit his resignation. Story here. I’ve blogged on Fr Weinandy a few times in the past, but not in several years, not since the 2011 USCCB/Elizabeth Johnson dust-up over her then-four-year-old book.

To begin with, I’d like to say that opinions like these do not (in my opinion) constitute a problem for employment:

You have often spoken about the need for transparency within the Church.  You have frequently encouraged, particularly during the two past synods, all persons, especially bishops, to speak their mind and not be fearful of what the pope may think.  But have you noticed that the majority of bishops throughout the world are remarkably silent?  Why is this?  Bishops are quick learners, and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it.

I’ve seen this meme repeated quite often in the past few years. I’ve also seen the reality lived out over the past thirty or forty years with the two previous pontiffs. I suppose when a pope is right, silence is golden. Otherwise, not so much.

I don’t think priests in good standing ever descend into poverty in these circumstances. I imagine there will always be a place for a good, earnest, holy priest like Thomas Weinandy. In a university. In a parish. With his Franciscan order. Possibly all three. This situation isn’t quite as bad as when a lay person gets turned out of employment on short notice. Sometimes without the resources of a religious order, a diocese, or something on which to fall back. Sometimes with the spouse able to cover the breadwinning. This organ, for example, was quick to jump on the story as well, but they certainly don’t come off as pure on the matter of pink-slipping some of their employees when their writing got a little controversial. They did print my comment that referred to their behavior, so perhaps transparency is catching in some corners.

I recall a moment in grad school when a classmate returned early from a weekend of serving back in his parish. The new pastor summarily dismissed him without ever hearing him play the organ, directing his choir, or in action in liturgy at all.  That was likely more ignorance and liturgical neglect than ideologically-driven. But it was ugly and sinful nonetheless.

I do find it amusing that so many “faithful” Catholics see great wrong in Fr Weinandy’s situation, but were themselves silent and approving when it happened at the hands of henchmen and sycophants of the previous pope or two. Chasing after people’s jobs is ugly, reprehensible behavior that knows no single ideology. I’m a skeptic if it knows virtue at all.

I fully expect the moaning to rise up from conservative, “faithful” elements of Catholics in social media–you can see it in sampling the comboxes of the linked stories given here. Most of my old St Blog’s friends and foils seem to take no notice that certain others were treated similarly in the 1978-2013 era. When I mention figures like Bishop Bill Morris, lies and half-truths are trotted out–like fake news is some sort of justification for clumsy behavior. The ends justifies the means: where is that in the Catechism?

Fr Weinandy’s story of his troubles with Pope Francis and his request for a sign (one was “given” to write, but not publish, I note) falls under the heading of tmi. If I were in an employer’s shoes, the publication (not the writing) of such a letter might inspire an opportunity for a discussion. If an employee confessed such feelings of anxieties as described by this man, it would certainly be worth some discernment with the person. This situation might be a concern in some circumstances. I suppose the subtlety might merit exploration with a spiritual director–something I would urge before divulging publicly.

It is hard for me to detect the hidden hand of a cruel pope in this. Sometimes in the past, it just happened on the level of the person making a bad personnel decision. The one time a priest said to me, “It’s just not working,” I tend to think it was a follow-up to “I don’t know what a liturgist does” and not the hidden hand of a higher-up.

On the discernment front, I’ve probably been tempted a few times by a cloaked devil. For an intelligent, thoughtful theologian, I can’t imagine a frontal attack would work quite as well.

Comments on any of this?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to A Theologian Resigns

  1. Devin Rice says:

    Several things

    1) He didn’t need to publish the letter.

    2) The presumption of orthodoxy is strongly on the Pope, so the tone of the letter at the very least was way off.

    3) It was good to have him resign since the letter was published. Perhaps he should have still resigned even without the publication.

    4) For a letter who’s main complaint was confusion and vagueness, the letter itself was full of ambiguity. Presumably the issue was communion for the civilly divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity. Another issue that is frequently raised is “situational ethics” which has been denied by the Pope, the alleged ghost writer of AL and others, though I can see how isolated portions of AL could be read that way.

    5) The pope bares a small share of responsibility for this. (I am a communist when it comes to blame, I believe it should shared by as many people as possible). He technically hasn’t said a direct yes to communion for the civilly remarried. He tried to address a major issue through a wink and nod on an issue he knew would generate a ton a controversy instead of tackling it head on by giving direct justification and putting the weight of his office behind it, but instead has been allowing the issue to fester.

  2. Liam says:

    I not a fan of defenstration, though I have to say there are times in the secular world I am sorely tempted, so I understand the temptation…

    That said, I was struck by Fr Weinandy’s formulation of a prayer for a signal grace (which is a term that used with more than one shade of meaning, but that I use in the narrow and specific sense of a prayer for a specific sign for proper discernment – and signal graces are relatively rare consolations):

    “If you want me to write something, you have to give me a clear sign,” Weinandy recalls saying. “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Saint Mary Major’s to pray, and then I am going to Saint John Lateran. After that, I’m coming back to Saint Peter’s to have lunch with a seminary friend of mine.”
    “During that interval, I must meet someone that I know but have not seen in a very long time, and would never expect to see in Rome at this time. That person cannot be from the United States, Canada or Great Britain. Moreover, that person has to say to me, ‘Keep up the good writing’. Sure enough, Weinandy said, exactly that happened the next day, in a chance meeting with an archbishop he’d known a long time ago but not seen for over twenty years, who congratulated him for a book on the Incarnation and then said the right words, “Keep up the good writing.”
    “There was no longer any doubt in my mind that Jesus wanted me to write something,” Weinandy said. “I also think it significant that it was an Archbishop that Jesus used. I considered it an apostolic mandate.”

    The way he formulated his prayer is striking. On the one hand, it benefits from the realization that we often pray in ways that game/rationalize things that we want/desire – it demonstrates the priest was aware of how we can use prayers to deceive ourselves. On the other hand, it’s lawyerly, for lack of a better word, and as a lawyer I try only to use my lawyerlyness to distill my prayers, not to turn them into transactional negotiations with God. And, even if he got what he prayed for, he didn’t ask for a sign about publishing the letter publicly. That’s on him, not God. Which reminds me of the Thomistic caution about private revelation: “whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver,” meaning it’s intended for the receiver, and might differ if other recipients were receiving it.

    • Devin Rice says:

      Yeah, I am not sure what to think of the prayer. Having received signal graces in the past, I have had issues with how to interpret them, so I can definitely understand the “lawyerly” way of placing conditions on God to respond so you don’t misinterpret. But it is also a very “limiting” way and not open for God saying something differently.

      Fr. Weinandy sending the letter is most probably from God but the fruits of such action are always His alone to determine. I am reminded of Blessed John Henry Newman and his dealing with the papal infallibility definition during the First Vatican Council. He worked and prayed against the definition but once it was done, preached and supported it. Here is a quote from letter addressed to Ambrose Phillipps

      “We are in God’s Hands – not in the hands of men, however high-exalted. Man proposes, God disposes. When it is actually done, I will accept it as His act; but, till then, I will believe it [ the dogmatic definition of infallibility] impossible. One can but act according to one’s best light. Certainly, we at least have no claim to call ourselves infallible; still it is our duty to act as if we were, to act as strongly and vigorously in the matter as if it were impossible we could be wrong, to be full of hope and of peace, and to leave the event to God.”

  3. Chris says:

    Fr Wienandy publicly accused the Pope of calumny in a careful worded statement. I image it would therefore be very hard for him to continue with the USCCB and he resigned accordingly.

    I expect that “keep up the good writing” is a comment Fr Wienandy frequently gets from those who appreciate his writings. The divine purpose here is more likely to about purification and reform of the Church than about accusing the Holy Father of calumny.

    Many Blessings

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