Diocese of Clifton says lecture by Professor Tina Beattie was cancelled because of a letter to the Times

The Diocese of Clifton has cancelled a lecture which was due to be delivered by the Catholic Professor Tina Beattie as a result of her support for legalising same-sex marriage.

The professor at the University of Roehampton was scheduled to deliver a talk on “Mary: Mother of God and a model of a pilgrim people – Lumen Gentium’” but a recent update to the online programme stated that the talk for later this month was cancelled without elaboration.

A statement from Clifton diocese clarified Professor Beattie would no longer be speaking on behalf of the diocese. A spokesman for the diocese said: “Over the course of the last year, Clifton diocese has put on a series of different lectures to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

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“Subjects have included among others; ‘A Word for life – Dei Verbum’, ‘For the life of the world: Vatican II and the mission of the Church today – Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes’ and ‘A Church reaching out to other faiths and to people of good will – Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae’.

“Speakers have included Bishop Declan Lang; Fr James Hanvey SJ, Fr Timothy Menezes, Professor Paul Murray and Professor Gavin D’Costa.

“In September 2011, Professor Tina Beattie was invited to speak on ‘Mary: Mother of God and a model of a pilgrim people – Lumen Gentium’.

“In the light of the controversy over a recent letter which appeared in the Times, signed by Professor Beattie and 27 others, about proposals to extend marriage to same-sex partnerships, in discussion with Professor Beattie, Clifton Diocese has decided to cancel the lecture.”

Prof Tina Beattie said: “I was delighted and privileged to be asked to contribute to this distinguished series of lectures, and I was deeply saddened when the lecture was cancelled. However, I understand that this was a difficult and painful decision, and I accept the reasons for it.

“I was one of 27 Catholic signatories to a letter published in the Times on Monday, August 13, which suggested that “it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples”. The letter did not commit any of the signatories to a position for or against same-sex civil marriage. Rather, it was putting across a reasoned argument as to why there are sound principles for Catholics in good conscience to take a number of different views on social policy issues such as same-sex civil marriage, even if these do not agree with the position stated by the hierarchy.”

She continued: “As a result of my signing that letter, I understand that representations were made to Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton diocese by various parties, which resulted in the cancellation of my lecture. While standing by the contents of the letter, I deeply regret any personal embarrassment I may have caused Bishop Declan. He is a wise and pastorally sensitive leader who has earned the respect of many of us in his diocese, and I hope that I shall be able to continue to contribute towards the educational life of the diocese as I have for many years.

“As an academic theologian and a practising Catholic I try to maintain a difficult but important balancing act – deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition – between upholding the revealed doctrinal truths which are part of the timeless and unchanging mystery of our faith, and entering into reasoned and informed debates about issues of morality, society and values which are contingent and capable of being adapted to different cultures and contexts. I do not believe that an informed theological contribution to issues of public interest is detrimental to the interests of the Church. On the contrary, I believe such debate bears witness to the theological vigour and social dynamism of Catholic Christianity, and allows us to draw on a long and rich intellectual tradition to play an active role in society today.

“However, as Cardinal Martini observed in his final interview before his death, ‘In the Church today I see so much ash covering the embers that I’m often overcome by a sense of impotence’. The cardinal also warned that ‘the Church must recognise her own errors and must pursue a radical path of change’, which includes ‘Questions about sexuality and about all the themes connected to the human body … We have to ask ourselves if people are still listening to the advice of the Church regarding sexuality. Is the Church still an authoritative point of reference in this field or is it just a caricature in the media?’

“My willingness to sign the letter to the Times was motivated by such concerns, but I am well aware that there is a difference between taking a position as an individual theologian and addressing a diocesan event as a Catholic speaker. I would never abuse the hospitality and trust of the Bishop by raising potentially divisive questions in such a context, even although the same questions might be perfectly legitimate and indeed important to debate in different contexts.”

The letter appeared in the Times and stated: “Sir, Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.”

The letter went on to argue that the late Cardinal Hume stated that love between the opposite sexes and the same sexes was to be “treasured and respected.”

It continued: “This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change?

“Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens?”

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