British Theologian Disinvited from Fellowship at California Catholic Campus

Professor Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie, a prominent Catholic theologian has been disinvited from a visiting fellowship at the University of San Diego, a Catholic campus in southern California because she “dissents” from church teaching, possibly because of her support for  same-sex marriage.

Beattie had been invited to be a fellow at USD’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.  USD’s President Mary Lyons sent her a letter rescinding the fellowship which stated the reason the school’s action:

“The Center’s primary mission, consistent with those who have financially supported the Center, is to provide opportunities to engage the Catholic intellectual tradition in its diverse embodiments.

“This would include clear and consistent presentations concerning the Church’s moral teachings, teaching with which you, as a Catholic theologian, dissent publicly. In light of the contradiction between the mission of the Center and your own public stances as a Catholic theologian, I regretfully rescind the invitation that has been extended to you.”

Beattie, who teaches at Roehampton University in England pointed out that the letter offered no specifics about what the university believes she is dissenting about, but she did note that she was disinvited from another event because of her support of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Beattie expressed concern less about her own situation and more about what such a decision portends for Catholic academia.  She said the cancellation was

“symptomatic of something very new and very worrying.

“It’s unheard of, certainly in Britain, for a theologian in my position to feel threatened by this kind of action. It’s not about me; it’s about some change in the culture of the Catholic church that we should be very, very concerned about.”

In a statement on her blog, Beattie expanded on this concern for academic freedom:

“The cancellation of my visit is not the most important issue in all this. The real issues are academic freedom, the vocation of lay theologians in relation to the official magisterium, and the power of a hostile minority of bloggers (some of whom are ordained deacons and priests) to command the attention and support of the CDF. The latter is the most sinister development of all, and it is a cause for scandal which brings the Church into disrepute. However, it also shows how deep this crisis has become.”

In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Beattie used her strongest language to describe the university’s decision, saying that the institution was “colluding in the Sovietisation” of Roman Catholic intellectual life.

Theologians on both sides of the Atlantic have come to Beattie’s support.  The National Catholic Reporter quotes two prominent scholars:

” ‘This is an insult to a well-respected theologian who I know, whose work I know and who I think has always been entirely appropriate in the ways in which she’s developed and expressed her views,’ Jean Porter, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, told NCR.

” ‘It is deeply dispiriting that the President of a Catholic University should characterize academic discussion and debate among Catholics as “dissent,” and should seek to suppress academic exchange by black-balling an individual whom the Church has not condemned,’ Eamon Duffy, a professor of Christian history at the University of Cambridge and a former member of the Pontifical Historical Commission, wrote in an email to Lyons, which he shared with NCR.

“Duffy cites the writing of 19th-century Catholic convert John Henry Newman in his letter.

“Newman ‘criticized the “shortsightedness” of those who “have thought that the strictest Catholic University could by its rules and its teachings exclude” intellectual challenges to faith,’ Duffy wrote.

” ‘The cultivation of the intellect involves that danger, and where it is absolutely excluded, there is no cultivation,’ writes Duffy, quoting Newman.”

In an email to friends, Beattie recommended writing to USD’s president, Dr. Mary Lyons, if they wanted to protest the school’s decision.  Beattie suggested writing to Dr. Lyons’ administrative assistant,.Elaine Atencio, at [email protected].

Beattie also urged friends to express support to Professor Gerard Mannion, Director of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and CultureProfessor Mannion, who originally invited her to be a visiting fellow.  He can be reached at [email protected].

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Patrick Nugent
    Patrick Nugent says:

    The management of the University of San Diege are evidently more interested in financing than integrity. Interestingly, today’s Gospel has Jesus saying “I will not reject anyone who comes to me”. One begins to wonder if anyone in the management of Catholic institutions read Scripture.

  2. Vern Smith
    Vern Smith says:

    I would also suggest at least the possibility of the political timing of this disinvitation. Given that several states have marriage equality referrenda on their ballots this coming Tuesday, this action by the school at this time makes a point to the Catholic supporters of the institution to oppose gay marriage on Tuesday without explicitly saying so. It’s a safe and convenient way for them to raise the point in the press and lobby against gay marriage without actually saying so. Of course, there is no way to prove it, but that’s the genious of waging a covert political war against the issue. (Of course, many aspects of the “war” against gay marriage by the Catholic Church have not been so covert. But universities with monied interests might use such tactics to wash their hands of being accused of overly “political” activity.) Wise Catholics need to recognize this possibility, and follow their consciences on Tuesday, and ignore the histrionics of such institutions. Truly, if this were not the hot topic this coming Tuesday, and Dr. Beattie were to have been scheduled to speak at the school at some other, less poltiical time, do you think she would have been disinvited? (Maybe, maybe not. But I think it is reasonable to at least acknowldge that my hypothesis is possible.)

  3. medwards
    medwards says:

    The clash centers on the academic freedom of a university, which encourages free exploration of issues without predeterming the outcome, and the Catholic tradition, which already knows the outcome and seeks support for it. Thus the church has already determined that people with a homosexual orientation suffer from an intrinsic disorder, women cannot attain the priesthood because of their gender, contraception is always evil and self-serving, and divorced Catholics should not receive the Eucharist. From the university’s point of view, the church is attempting to stifle free, open discussion of contemporary issues. From the church’s viewpoint, there is no need for further discussion of settled questions of faith, which do not change in response to scientific inquiry, and certainly not because of popularity I don’t see how these opposing views can be reconciled. What is surprising is that Catholic institutions seem to issue such invitations without adequately knowing the views of their proposed guests.

  4. Doug Hargrove
    Doug Hargrove says:

    Is the church no longer able or willing to defend its positions? This reminds me so much of the “silencing” of John McNeill ‘way back when. I pity the hierarchy and those who defend them. If they have to cower behind tacit banishments, where is the courage of their convictions? Why do they believe what they espouse?


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