The following came in a comment to CalCatholic submitted on Nov. 9.


The Office of the President distributed the following letter from President Mary Lyons by email today:

Office of the President

In recent weeks there has been considerable interest in, bewilderment, and anger about a decision I made to rescind an invitation given to Dr. Tina Beattie, a Catholic theologian from the United Kingdom, to hold an honorary fellowship in the University’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC). While I have released several statements to our internal constituents explaining this decision, it is evident that my decision has raised questions about my commitment to the academic freedom of our faculty and, thus, the academic reputation of our university. Thus, my comments are offered with the hope of further clarifying my position and reiterating my support for academic freedom.

Dr. Tina Beattie was invited many months ago by the Director of the CCTC to hold a one-month honorary fellowship within the CCTC. A respected theologian within her own circle of scholars, in her own scholarly writings she has taken positions that many would say challenge Church teachings. Would this have been a reason to question her selection as a fellow in the CCTC by me? Absolutely not. However, in late October, I was made aware that, on August 13th 2012, Dr. Beattie had joined others in issuing a public statement within the UK stating that “it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.” Whether you agree or do not agree with this position, it is a stance in direct conflict with the Church’s own teaching. Dr. Beattie’s own bishop subsequently cancelled a lecture she was scheduled to deliver within his diocese. She herself reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had intervened, urging her bishop to take this action.

One academic theologian put the matter succinctly: “Theologians can, and indeed must, probe the tradition and raise critical questions. This is how a tradition develops and continues to speak with credibility and relevancy to succeeding generations. However, engaging in open defiance of the Church’s pastors by signing public letters designed to undermine the confidence of the laity in the leadership of their bishops is not an appropriate or responsible way of seeking to advance the development of the tradition.”

Given the above, why did I withdraw the honorary fellowship for Dr. Beattie?

First of all, Dr. Beattie was not invited to the university by one of our academic departments. She was invited to hold an honorary position and represent the University through the CCTC. Its purpose, from the beginning, was simply to be a resource for others, especially the faculty, inviting them to explore through the lens of their own disciplines and research interests how a scholarly life pursued within the context of a Catholic university provides a vast landscape for their intellectual pursuits, one that reckons with the reality of the sacred and rests upon the foundation of a rich and vital wisdom tradition. The CCTC’s purpose then is to present that tradition with accuracy and respect. With this mission in mind, I and the CCTC’s first Director solicited benefactors, generous men and women who were champions of our effort to enhance the Catholic identity of the university. Never would they imagine that their gifts would be used to provide honors to Catholic theologians who publicly dissented from the Church’s teaching in the matter that occurred here.

So, what does this have to do with my decision to rescind the invitation to Dr. Beattie? Her public position in opposition to Church teaching, as a Catholic theologian, is incompatible with the CCTC’s purpose. In addition, offering her an honorary fellowship would be a betrayal of those benefactors who supported the Center with that purpose in mind. The CCTC Director provided no notification of Dr. Beattie’s public action in August and the consequences that befell her within her own diocese. Thus, we only learned about this in late October, just weeks before her scheduled arrival, leaving no time for making other arrangements that might have ameliorated the situation. As we became more aware of the problems associated with honoring Dr. Beattie and as the time drew near for Dr. Beattie to begin her travel, it became my responsibility to notify her of the cancelled visit.