Dissent Now Allowed?

As I posted yesterday (The Scourge of the Sound Bite), there has been much made of the letter of Fr Thomas Weinandy to Pope Francis, calling into question the words and actions of Pope Francis in certain areas of Church teaching and life. As I mentioned yesterday, drawing on the letter of Fr Weinandy’s predecessor as Head of the US Bishops’ Secretariat for Doctine, there is a right way to raise questions about Church teaching and Church life, and it doesn’t include making public a private letter, nor issuing ‘familiar corrections’, and the like.

The more appropriate course of action, surely, would be to engage in charitable and open dialogue between the disagreeing parties, and to do so within the confines of the Church, in the hope that clarifications can be arrived at, and people’s consciences salved – even if no direct and deliberate agreement is reached.

This morning, however, again in America magazine, there is an article that is worthy of comment. This article, by Fr James Martin, a well-known author and America‘s Editor-at-Large, looks at the apparent dichotomy that is represented by actions similar to Fr Weinandy’s. I will let Fr Martin’s words speak for themselves:

Father Weinandy’s letter reveals once again the double standard often employed by many of Pope Francis’ critics. Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, no dissent was tolerated. Now some of the same people who were charged with enforcing rules against dissent are themselves dissenting.

One can’t help but have a certain sympathy with Fr Martin’s position that there is a certain irony with people who were insistent on complete and unquestioning obedience to Pope Francis’ predecessors are now openly – and very publicly – dissenting from the present incumbent of the Chair of Peter. It would seem that, with a change of papacy, dissent is now allowed – or is it the case that dissent is only allowed to some people when the Pope doesn’t agree with them?

Whatever the case, I doubt anyone can reasonably say that there has never been dissent in the Church. I suspect, though I cannot prove, that it has existed since the very beginning, but only seems to be becoming widely known in the age of the internet and social media, where it is easy – and perhaps easiest – to engage in public dissent rather than the much harder task of genuine and charitable dialogue that true discernment requires.