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.