CNS PHOTO | NANCY PHELAN WIECHEC
Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy has served as the U.S. bishops' chief adviser on doctrinal and canonical affairs since 2005.
Deep down, Capuchin Franciscan Father Thomas Weinandy always wanted to be a missionary, traveling the world to spread the good news of the Gospel.
In the end, he got the chance to travel – a bit – but he became a teacher and evangelizer, sharing his zeal for Catholic and Christian doctrine in classrooms in the United States and at England's famed Oxford University.
Weinandy, 67, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine, will take his missionary spirit on the road again when he leaves his position Aug. 2 after more than eight years.
First, there will be a yearlong sabbatical that will find him visiting Germany, Italy, the Holy Land and England. In fall 2014, he will return to the classroom, this time at The Catholic University of America. In spring 2015 he plans to teach at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome.
"One of the things that was great working in this office, the truths of the faith, the mysteries of the faith are beautiful things and they're true, they're marvelous," said Weinandy, who delivered the 2012 Jordan Lecture Series at Newman Theological College.
"We live within the truth of what the Trinity is or the Incarnation and the sacraments.
"To promote them and think about them and develop them and to help the bishops promote them and defend them and teach them has been a great honour and a beautiful thing to be a part of.
"What we're talking about is so beautiful and so true and ultimately of eternal significance."
As head of the secretariat, Weinandy was responsible for relaying key messages on doctrinal issues from the bishops' Committee on Doctrine.
During his tenure Weinandy helped formulate the bishops' statement on the worthy reception of Communion, a document on pastoral ministry to homosexuals and another questioning Catholic institutions' use of Reiki, a Japanese form of energy therapy that involves the laying on of hands.
He also assisted in the development of an iPhone app to guide Catholics through Confession.
And he helped craft critiques of the published works of well-known Catholic theologians Daniel Maguire, Father Peter Phan and Sister Elizabeth Johnson.
In each case, the authors' works were found to diverge from Catholic teaching.
In the case of Johnson, at least two Catholic theological societies questioned the process of review that resulted in the 2011 critique of her work, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. Other theologians supported the critique.
Weinandy defended the work of the secretariat under his directorship, saying every effort has been taken to ensure that any response regarding a theologian's work was done "within a very pastoral setting."
"The doctrine committee cannot discipline anybody," he said. "We can point out error, but it has no authority to say, 'You can't teach anymore, you can't publish anymore.' Rome may be able to do that, but the doctrine committee can't do that.
"So it's just making clarifying statements about what somebody has written. It's not a personal attack on the person."
Concerns about the work of theologians largely originate outside of the secretariat and the doctrine committee, Weinandy said.
"For the most part, the Committee on Doctrine traditionally has not been proactive. We don't sort of look for things to do," he explained.
"Questions come to us and if the doctrine committee thinks its worthy of taking up, we take them up. Normally when we have questions about doctrine or concerns about doctrine or morals, they come from other bishops."
Weinandy says his office always asks about the pastoral significance of the issues brought to its attention.
"So it's never done merely in an academic atmosphere or way. It's always done in how do these concerns or issues, how do they affect the Catholic faithful?"
Back in 2004, Weinandy was not so sure joining the USCCB was what he wanted to do.
Having taught at Oxford for a dozen years at the time, he was satisfied to continue working in academia.
"What I realized once I started teaching was that my missionary field really was the classroom, that to be a missionary and to be a teacher was not incompatible, that I was fulfilling what I thought the Lord wanted me to do," he said.
So when Weinandy got a phone call asking if he would consider applying for the doctrine position, he at first was doubtful. He interviewed anyway and was offered the position.