Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.
The American Association of University Professors stated in a letter last week that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:
“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”
On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:
“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.
“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”
The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:
“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.
“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.
“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “
President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:
“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”
The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:
“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”
In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.
These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.
-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.
For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact [email protected].