Inside Higher Ed: An invitation rescinded

By Libby A. Nelson, for Inside Higher Ed

November 6, 2012




The University of San Diego has rescinded an invitation to a British theologian who had been asked to spend several weeks at the Roman Catholic university as a visiting fellow because of her views on social issues, including her public support for gay marriage.

Tina Beattie, director of the Digby Stuart Research Center for Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, a public university in London, had been invited to be a visiting fellow at the university's Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. The invitation - which included a speech at a prayer breakfast and a lecture as part of a university series - was challenged by the Cardinal Newman Society, a group that seeks to hold Catholic colleges and universities accountable for activity on campus that it considers un-Catholic. Three days later, the university's president, Mary E. Lyons, disinvited Beattie.

Beattie, a practising Catholic, has published extensively on gender issues and the church; the Newman Society, in a blog post attacking the University of San Diego for inviting her, quoted from several of those works. It highlighted passages that appeared to question whether life begins at conception and one that seemed to compare the celebration of Mass to sexual intercourse.

Those passages were taken out of context in a way that offended her, Beattie wrote in a detailed explanation of her theological views posted on her own blog; on the words quoted by the Cardinal Newman Society, she said that the first was meant to consider how far the Catholic church should push legal restrictions on abortions on those who did not share the Catholic faith (she is personally pro-life); the second was part of a sustained critique of another theologian, who had written about Catholic worship in what she found were highly - and unacceptably - sexual terms.

Challenges from the Newman Society, which issues many such posts every month criticizing Catholic institutions, are hardly unusual (and the University of San Diego has been a target many times). But three days after the blog post appeared, Lyons rescinded Beattie's invitation.

"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 had been extended to you," Lyons wrote in a letter that Beattie posted online. She arrived at the decision, she said, after "great and thoughtful consideration." The university declined to comment further Thursday evening.

Other Catholic blogs had targeted Beattie in recent weeks, the theologian wrote on her blog, after she signed a letter to The Times in August saying that Catholics could, in good conscience, support legal, civil marriage for same-sex couples. (Fellow signatories, in all, included six priests.) But she planned to stay away from controversial subjects in San Diego, she wrote, "with a broad audience in mind, and with a desire not to create problems for my hosts by provoking controversy in the currently febrile atmosphere of American Catholic politics."

Disinvitations are not unheard-of at Catholic colleges; Anna Maria College, in the most recent and widely known case, uninvited Victoria Kennedy, widow of the Senator Ted Kennedy, as a commencement speaker in the spring under pressure from its local bishop.

"The cancellation of my visit is not the most important issue in all this," Beattie wrote on her blog. "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."

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