A British theologian supportive of LGBT inclusion had a speaking event cancelled recently after the Vatican ordered she be banned from church property.
Tina Beattie, a Catholic studies professor at the University of Roehampton in London, was to address the Edinburgh Circle of the Newman Association this month before Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh archdiocese intervened. The Tablet reports the archbishop’s letter critiqued both Beattie and Joe Fitzpatrick, a previous theologian the Association had hosted, saying, in part:
” ‘Professor Beattie is known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching. I would therefore ask you to cancel this event, as it may not proceed or be publicised on any Church property in this archdiocese.’ “
Beattie has been troubled with such bans before, facing discrimination in 2012 in England and at the University of San Diego, which rescinded a fellowship offer a mere two weeks before the professor was set to arrive.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Beattie’s troubles with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has ordered the ban from church property, stem from her signature on a pro-marriage equality ad in The Times of London. She was one of 27 Catholics who wrote “it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.” Terence Weldon makes an important point at his blog, Queering the Church, that Beattie’s support comes as a defense of the primacy of conscience:
“What is particularly disturbing here, is that this claim that she has “frequently called into question the Church’s teaching” is entirely unsubstantiated. Professor Beattie herself emphatically denies the charge…That letter however, was not arguing specifically in favour of gay marriage, but simply for the right of Catholics to disagree in conscience on the matter. That primacy of conscience is deeply embedded in Catholic teaching, and should not be seen as controversial.”
The Edinburgh Circle is a chapter of the Newman Association, whose website describes the U.K. organization as “a national organisation whose members meet regularly in local “circles” to discuss and develop their understanding of the Christian faith.” The association is named for Cardinal John Henry Newman.
In response to this most recent incident, the Newman Association and Beattie both wrote to Archbishop Curley to express their distress. Neither have received a reply, though the Association has been offered meetings with diocesan officials. Beattie wrote in her letter:
” ‘You say that I am “known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching”. Known by whom, in what context and with reference to which of my published works?…Never in my published writings or talks have questioned any of the doctrinal mysteries of the Catholic faith. On the contrary, I have consistently argued in defence of even the most frequently challenged doctrines of the Church.’
“On gay unions, Professor Beattie said that she signed the letter at a time when Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop Cushley’s predecessor, was one of the ‘most vociferous opponents of same-sex marriage’ and that she believes that Catholics could enter a ‘more reasoned and nuanced public dialogue’ about the matter than the hierarchy allowed.”
Beattie is right in calling for both a respect of conscience and a “reasoned and nuanced public dialogue” over LGBT issues, specifically marriage equality. Her thinking is right in line with Pope Francis, who has respected the teaching on conscience. He has been a leading figure for dialogue around some of the most contentious global issues.
It is sad that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith still feels it needs to ban and censor and silence Catholics. Authoritarianism is, to use the phrase of the pope, an “antidote to faith” and only helps to cause greater wounds in the church by forcing out good people and creating obstacles to God. Hopefully, this ban is more anomaly than trend when it comes to the CDF’s actions in the era of Francis.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry