The power of Catholic bloggers

The Catholic theologian Professor Tina Beattie is this morning complaining about the ‘Sovietisation’ of the Catholic Church, following the cancellation of a series of public lectures at a Catholic University in San Diego. This comes hot on the heels of a cancellation of a lecture she was due to give at Clifton Cathedral in August.

The reason for these cancellations is that Professor Beattie openly dissents from Catholic teaching; she was one of the signatories to a letter to the Times stating that Catholics could in good conscience support gay marriage, she has supported abortion and suggested that Catholics ought to baptise their menstrual period every month, called Catholic teaching on contraception perverted and compared the sacrifice of the Holy Mass to homosexual sex. Deacon Nick Donnelly has catalogued the details.

It goes without saying that all of these statements are not only deeply offensive to faithful Catholics, not to mention those who may have suffered the tragedy of miscarriage, but also heretical. Though Professor Beattie has every right to describe herself as a theologian, although when I saw her debate gay marriage she demonstrated a wilful misunderstanding of Scripture even to my untrained theological eyes, what stretches credulity is that she identifies herself as a Catholic, given her wide-ranging dissent from Catholic teaching.

This is not a question of her academic freedom as she claims, but simply a question of whether she should be given a platform by Catholic institutions to promote her views. It does not matter that the content of her forthcoming tour was according to Professor Beattie, orthodox, being based upon Mary and Lumen Gentium, the problem is, that if Professor Beattie is invited to speak by Catholic institutions, it lends her authority, an authority which she then uses to launch dissenting views. If Professor Beattie wishes to discuss and expound her theology, she is free to do so at any public venue or institution, however the Catholic church should not give her credence or do anything which may endorse her kooky views.

As someone who is faithful to magisterium, which for many of us is not always easy, to hear Professor Beattie as an alleged fellow Catholic describe our way of life as ‘peverted’ is distressing and offensive. I should imagine that celibate Catholic homosexuals feel similar. What she has said about abortion and the baptising of menstrual periods is not only sacramentally and biologically incorrect, but also terribly upsetting. To equate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the moment when Christ becomes present in the Eucharist with sodomy is sacrilegious and offensive to all the faithful.

No-one is claiming that because certain views are offensive that they should be suppressed, no-one has the right not to be offended, Tina Beattie has every right to broadcast or publish her thoughts if she can find a willing platform, however the Catholic Church has every right to refuse that platform and withdraw its endorsement from someone who does not represent them and could seriously mislead people and endanger souls. The magisterium is non-negotiable, it is derived from Scripture and tradition, it is the body of teaching passed down to us from Christ himself and cannot simply be changed at a whim. Though theological matters can and should be discussed, as the Pope said to the English Bishops in 2010:

It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.

It is vital that the Catholic Church is seen to distance itself from views such as these, because as I discovered to my peril in the run-up to the papal visit, critics of Catholicism along with lapsed or struggling lay Catholics, seize on her words and use them as justification for wide-ranging dissent and condemnation of the Church, such as we have seen with this morning’s Guardian article. Those who are faithful to the magisterium are accused of being “ultra orthodox” or “fundamental’ and as a ‘Catholic theologian’ Tina Beattie’s words are used as proof that not only is one in error, but also the Church itself and that Tina Beattie is actually far more representative of the majority of the faithful. I had both Tina Beattie and Catherine Pepinster quoted at me by the self-righteous liberal mummy forum in the run up to the papal visit, in an attempt to prove that I had no idea what I was talking about. One contributor claimed to have been speaking with a “well-known Catholic female journalist on the inside” and came out with ludicrous claims, which were all eagerly seized upon.

With that in mind, I do have some sympathy for Professor Beattie, in that the cancellation of her speaking engagements will affect her reputation and her finances. It cannot be easy to bear public humiliation and for that she should be in our prayers, along with an intention that she may come to see the error of her current position. With regards to whether or not the Catholic blogosphere is to blame for a campaign against her, I think this is a little unfair. Some Catholic bloggers have highlighted their disappointment that she should continue to be feted as a Catholic theologian and thinker and called for a withdrawal of official support, but no-one has engaged in ad hominem or said anything that is untrue. Tina has been hoisted by her own petard and condemned by her own words.

I would however urge Catholic bloggers, not to get carried away with a heady sense of power and influence. As Tina acknowledges, the blogs who have inflicted the damage, the blogs with real influence tend to be those written by the Catholic clergy who have exercised charity and restraint, whilst expressing their disappointment which is perhaps why they have been so effective. Most of us receive hits from the Vatican and I would wager most of us get traffic from those who are ideologically opposed, or our ‘enemies’. I’ve recently discovered that my blog is read on a regular basis by BPAS amongst others. I’ve not always been as temperate as I should have been, particularly during episodes of terrifying cyber-bullying, but actually as part of the New Evangelisation, we need to exercise charity, remember that we are representatives of Christ’s Church here on earth and keep in mind whether or not our writing is doing anything to promote Gospel values. We cannot complain about Stonewall’s smearing, labelling and cheapening of discourse in an attempt to close down debate, if we are prepared to do that to each other and our clergy.

If we are going to criticise and expect to be taken seriously, we need to ensure that any criticism is appropriate, measured, evidenced, charitable and remember that even if we are criticising clergy or bishops, that these are still men of God and we should neither impugn their motives or holiness. Our role should be that of critical friend and where possible we should attempt to avoid public scandal. Otherwise there is a real risk that we come across as embittered individuals prone to public rantings and internecine feuds and cause damage to the body of Christ. One of the most powerful blogs on the block at the moment is Eccles and Bosco, which is not only extremely amusing to read, but manages to incisively get to the heart of Catholic politics and current affairs with devastating satire. The power of comedy should not be underestimated, it underscores the issues, but manages to add light and some much needed laughter.

I don’t feel any sense of satisfaction over Tina Beattie’s current predicament, more relief that she is increasingly seen as a maverick. Bloggers shouldn’t do anything to justify her sense of martyrdom or claim ‘moral victory’. We have to make sure that criticisms made are out of love and based in truth. Actually what has happened should not be seen in any way as punitive, but in the same way as excommunication, a medicinal measure designed to bring someone back into the folds of the church. If this withdrawal of mainstream Catholic support serves to make Professor Beattie do some serious re-thinking and embrace the magisterium in its fullness and then resume her work whilst recanting her previous views and promoting the beauty of Catholic sexual teaching, then I think Catholic bloggers could claim a victory for the Church. Professor Tina Beattie promoting and advancing traditional Catholic teaching. She’s a highly intelligent passionate woman with a wide-ranging media platform. That would be a truly powerful witness to the positive effects of the Catholic blogosphere.

8 thoughts on “The power of Catholic bloggers

  1. After reading your post yesterday about Nadine Dorries and Marie Stopes which I described as silly and offensive I didn’t think I’d come back here again. However, this post hits the mark and in my new spirit of charitable appreciation I thought I should just say so. 🙂 God bless, and I’m sorry if what I said yesterday was not expressed as charitably as perhaps it should have been.

  2. Well done, Caroline. Well said. Beattie consistently confuses people with her statements and brings great scandal with her words. As a Catholic, if she wants to stand on a platform at a Catholic institution, she should teach the Catholic faith, not her own opinions which often are divorced from the Magisterium.

  3. “No-one is claiming that because certain views are offensive that they should be suppressed, no-one has the right not to be offended, Tina Beattie has every right to broadcast or publish her thoughts if she can find a willing platform, however the Catholic Church has every right to refuse that platform and withdraw its endorsement from someone who does not represent them and could seriously mislead people and endanger souls.”

    This would be news to our Provincial Education Minister, a baptized Catholic who recently and erroneously told the public and Catholic educators that based on the passing of Bill 13 (the so called-bullying Bill but thinly veiled homosexual indoctrination agenda regarding the establishment of Gay-Straight_Alience clubs in all federally funded, i.e. all, Catholic Schools) that Catholic Schools must move in the direction of being pro-choice and may not teach that abortion is an intrinsic evil. To do so, said Education Minister Laurel Broten would be “misogynistic.” If it wasn’t so wrongheaded and so insulting it would be stand-up comedy. Few are laughing.

    So, yes, Broten is free to free publish her views but the Church nor the Church’s school need accept, endorse or apply them. That her position as and elected official in charge of Education may give her the power to impose her views to enact public policy against our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in relation to Freedom of Religion (and it might be added, within the context of the School, the School’s right to freedom of speech according to its religious belief) may soon be tested. May God, on this All Saints Day, aid us and bring hope and reason and faith to our nations. Holy Men and Women of God throughout all ages, pray for us.

  4. Agree absolutely. One error, however, I believe it was Clifton Cathedral, i.e. the Catholic Cathedral in Bristol, where her scheduled talk was stopped. (“Bristol Cathedral” is the Anglican cathedral)

  5. This post has given me so much to think about, I almost don’t know where to start.

    This morning’s reading from the Saints was from St Catherine of Siena part of which was “‘Moreover, I gave man intellect, so that, seeing the wisdom of my Son, he could recognise and understand my own will; for I am the giver of all graces and I give them with a burning fatherly love.” Theology is for a purpose and it isn’t ‘academic freedom’ or ‘freedom of speech’. It isn’t even diversity, although looking at Creation God quite clearly delights in this. It is so we, as a community and as individuals can know him better. In fact, as the reading says, all his gifts are for this purpose.

    Secondly, this made me think of the advice St Ignatius of Loyola gives for thinking with the Church. Writing during the Reformation, when far more was up for grabs, St Ignatius says that we need to remember that the Church is the Bride of Christ. If this is so, I have to trust that the Holy Spirit will work through His Church, even though the individual people in it are sinners.

    We also need to be very grounded in all the Sacraments and practices which deepen our desire for God. Then he says (with a cheeky nod to Erasmus) that if I think something is one way, and the Church thinks it is another, I will not presume that I am right. As Ignatius knew from his own life the opportunity for self-deception and extremism is huge. Therefore if there is a discrepancy I will look at myself as being at fault first. Ignatius was big on humility! He also is clear that if there is a problem with someone in Authority the matter should be taken to them, face to face or to their superior. Criticism must not be done in public in the absence of the person you are criticising. This is because it can cause scandal and harm the faith of others.

    Thirdly, Beattie is obviously a woman who values the contemplative and has an image of a generous God. However she seems to have split this off from certain issues and from the Church itself. So she writes, when describing the work of Maggie Ross, about “the inner mystery of the meaning of all matter and all life as emanating from and sustained by the divine life. ” And yet she wants to argue about when that divine gift starts and stops, and horse trade this gift against other ‘goods’. Sexuality and children are gifts from God, through which we discover more of God’s love. They cannot be split off as ‘side issues’. When we talk about God’s self-giving love and the life of the Trinity, we have to talk about marriage too. When we talk about His relationship to humanity, we have to talk about the Church as the Bride of Christ, for marriage, life issues, poverty, war all these ‘issues’ come out of what we say about God and his Church, the Bride of Christ. It is this way because God is the source of all life, all love. Nothing can be discussed apart from our understanding of God.

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