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USD Blacklisting Speaker Over Gay Marriage Support Creates Fallout

Tina Beattie, a British theologian, writer and broadcaster.
Tina Beattie, a British theologian, writer and broadcaster.
USD Same-Sex Marriage Fallout
Fallout Over USD Blacklisting Speaker
GUESTS:Tina Beattie, Professor, Theology & Religion, University of Roehampton, London Larry Hinman, Professor, Philosphy, USDGerard Mannion, Professor, Systematic Theology and Ethics, USD

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. British theologian Tina Beattie had been scheduled to start a teaching fellowship at the University of San Diego this week but late last week her invitation was withdrawn by USD Pres. Mary Lyons. The reason given was an allusion to Prof. Beattie's dissent on unspecified moral teachings of the Catholic Church. This sudden reversal has made headlines in both the US and Britain. It has also rocked the USD campus. I'd like to welcome my guests. First Professor Tina Beattie, a professor of Catholic Studies at London's University of Roehampton. Prof. Beattie, welcome to the show. TINA BEATTIE: Thank You Very Much, MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Good Evening There. TINA BEATTIE: Good afternoon back to you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Lawrence Hinman is professor of philosophy at USD and Prof. Hinman is not speaking on behalf of the University. Dr. Hinman, welcome. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Gerard Mannion is systematic professor of theology and ethics that USD. He too is not speaking on behalf of the University. Prof. Mannion, welcome to the show. GERARD MANNION: Hello, welcome, thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Prof. Beattie, I want to ask if you could take us through some of the background of this story. First of all what were you going to be doing as a visiting fellow at USD? TINA BEATTIE: I Was giving the Amelio Stuttgart lecture on art which is absolutely nothing to do with the controversy around this. And I was entering into a dialogue with another visiting professor Prof. Ursula King about women in education since the second Vatican Council and I was doing some interactions with students and seminars on human rights while I was there so all pretty innocuous stuff, really. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And when were you invited, how long ago was that? TINA BEATTIE: I think it was last July August, 2011. So it's been a long time in preparation and I've had many conversations with Prof. Gerard Mannion planning and trying to get it right. Try to make sure that I was a gracious guest of the University and very aware of you know, of avoiding issues that would cause embarrassment to my hosts. I wouldn't do that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you received a letter from the University of San Diego Pres. Mary Lyons last week. What did it say about why the invitation that is was being revoked? TINA BEATTIE: It said something to the effect of I as a Catholic theologian dissented from the moral teachings of the church. Which I found terribly auto. I never have put myself out as a Catholic theologian in the sense of being some unauthorized to teach on behalf of the church. And that question of dissenting from moral teachings is just wrong. I am like many others in academic positions engaged in debate about issues of social, political and ethical concerns. Which is perfectly proper for Catholics in my position to engage in and in fact it is a duty as academics and as citizens that we have these conversations. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now we did receive a statement from UST Pres. Mary Lyons which reads in part it is my considered judgment that Dr. Beattie's decision to exercise her office as a Catholic theologian and assigned a public document dissenting from the church's official teaching is what led me to rescind the invitation. What is Mary Lyons talking about, Dr. Beattie? TINA BEATTIE: I really don't have the faintest idea and I have actually seen that quotation myself. It was written on 5 November and on 29 October I had written to her making very clear that my job title is not even professor of Catholic theology. It is professor of Catholic studies. I have an office. I don't have a teaching office. I work in the British state University. I'm not paid. I receive no money by the church, from the church for what I do. And the letter I signed was about changes in the civil law to allow same-sex marriage and it said that Catholics could with an informed conscience properly support such a change in the law. That has absolutely nothing to do with doctrine or moral teaching is about civil law and the church has no jurisdiction over civil law in British society. Now I am not denying that marriage is not a very important issue and that many people have very strong feelings one way and the other around this. Nothing that letter said urge people to dissent, or urge people to do anything. All it said was that it voted for a certain position to be taking in good conscience. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me be clear for our listeners what we are talking about is a letter that you and more than 20 other Catholic academics signed up or I don't know if you were all Catholic, but religious studies teachers signed in Britain in Britain last August saying that by your scholarship you opined that it would be possible for Catholics to remain in their dogma and also section civil same-sex unions, is that correct? TINA BEATTIE: The signatories, there were 27 signatories, not all of them academics, some represent different organizations, all Catholic. Seven priests, for theologians and into priest theologians. And what's very peculiar is that no one else has been singled out for censure on that. List, just me and I find that very hard and I really wish that Pres. Lyons had contacted me before making her decision because I could've saved her making quite a lot of factual errors about the basis for it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now I want to get Prof. Jared Mannion into our conversation, Prof. Mannion I am interested in Prof. Beattie has talked to us about the fact that the position she was invited for really had nothing to do with any kind of lecture on same-sex civil unions. It was more about art than anything else. With the leadership of USD aware of this invitation from the start? GERARD MANNION: Yes absolutely, since summer last year and once it was firmed up in fall 2011 they were fully aware of this, yes. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And when were you notified that this might be a problem and that the invitation might be revoked? GERARD MANNION: I was informed that it was being revoked at the very same time Prof. Beattie was. Earlier in the week with the campaign by right-wing bloggers in particular people who campaign against many things going on at UST campus that they perceive to be liberal was being discussed earlier in the week some members of the senior administration had told me this would not affect Prof. Beattie's visit at all because it was a question of academic freedom. In fact one member of the senior administration has said it's perfectly acceptable for her to come here even though she dissents from official church teaching and I try to explain part of what Prof. Beattie has just explained to that that actually isn't the case. That in any case even if that were the case wasn't coming here to talk about is red flagged topics. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, professor Lawrence Hinman, when word began to spread last week to Prof. Beattie had been asked not to come to the University, how would you characterize the reaction? LARRY HINMAN: I think a lot of people on campus were really shocked that this had occurred and they were shocked in two respects. The first of them is about the particular decision, it just seems so unnecessary, the second aspect was the way in which the decision was made. Without consultation with Dr. Mannion and it just, it was one of these events that the campus really for a number of people shocked them and also has already had some I think quite serious consequences. For example, one person who we had worked very hard to get to come to our campus next semester as the holder of what is called the Knap chair, and endowed chair has now withdrawn from that appointment specifically for this reason. We've had calls from faculty that we want to hire for last year, next year that are also concerned so this has had repercussions beyond our campus as well as within the campus itself. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Prof. Mannion how would you characterize the reaction among the students? GERARD MANNION: So many of the students are outraged and hurt by this as well, deeply disappointed, the students on their own initiative had set up a Facebook campaign toreros, which is the nickname for UST students toreros stand with PD and also involved with inviting a rally of support to Prof. Beattie tomorrow at 1:30 PM outside UST's administration building where faculty and students will wear T-shirts stating I am Tina Beattie and they will have tape across their mouths to signal the feeling of students and faculty that Tina Beattie has been unjustly silence. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Prof. Hinman, is there a strong tradition of academic freedom at USD? LARRY HINMAN: Overall I think that there is. I've been teaching there now for 37 years I have a fairly good sample and I've taught a number of controversial issues and I've never encountered any interference in the classroom. You know, bringing in outside speakers on the other hand is one of those areas that I think falls within the purview of academic freedom. Others find it just a little bit over the boundary, there. And not as protected as the classroom is. And we've certainly had instances of others who have been uninvited to participate in events on our campus. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Prof. Beattie I will ask the to academics hear from the school, so I'm going to put this question to you, there was an allusion made in the letter that you received to those who have financially supported the center that you were going to lecture at as being one of the reasons this decision was made that encountered the mission that they have signed on for. For want of a better phrase. And so that is on one side, that idea of perhaps having some financial donor pressure. But, on the other side, do you think that this action by USD is also part of a broader crackdown on dissent in the Catholic Church? TINA BEATTIE: I think it is although I am surprised that the University would exercise their role. As I understand this is not a pontifical University. It's not a university with that kind of mission and even if it was I was still be asking certain questions. But yes I was surprised that the University would enforce a very very narrow, very doctrinaire understanding of Moral understanding and I gave a talk at the University last month and nobody tried to stop after I signed the letters of this team to be surprising. As for funding I think there is a very real risk and we are getting this in Britain as well are that we are not far down the road of universities being defendant, dependent on private funding and so the feeling may have some say in the epidemic legs of the University and I'm not saying that that is the case because I don't know, but I think it was hinted at in president Lyons letter to me and if that is the case I do understand that these are difficult times and that is a very undesirable position for someone like her to be put in, so I really regret, I still think it is not an appropriate justification, but I do understand that when universities are in receipt of private funds they are very vulnerable and the issue of academic freedom becomes absolutely paramount. That's easy to say. It's not so easy to do, I guess when you're sitting in that position. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me pose this question to you, Prof. Hinman, doesn't a Catholic university have a right to make sure their teachers conform with Catholic doctrine? LARRY HINMAN: Well it depends on how you construe the notion of the Catholic University. For years our mission statement read that we were an independent Catholic University. That was changed in 2004 to now read that we are a Roman Catholic university in the word independent has disappeared from that. There is a range of different options. You know on one end of the spectrum you can have universities that have a strong requirement for faith and practice of a face. My impression is that schools such as Brigham Young or Point Loma College of the Nazarene and others would be examples of that fine universities and that is. Identity. We have other universities that have tried to occupy a middle ground of religious commitments and academic freedom at the same time MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Like Notre Dame. LARRY HINMAN: Notre Dame would be probably a good example of that. And what is happening is that you know, you can have a strong Catholic presence in terms of campus ministry, in terms of the programs that are run at the University, in terms of the ways in which we provide for the spiritual needs of our students, and still keep academic freedom. But, this latest decision seems to step over that boundary. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry, go ahead GERARD MANNION: I would just like to follow up on Larry's point. First of all there is academic freedom policy at USD and first evolved insurances were given to the Catholic culture that apply to do censure as much as anything else but also a lack of logic and reasoning behind the withdrawal of the invitation I think people have been very badly advise. First of all there is no dissent that Tina Beattie has been guilty of. There is no binding teaching of the church on civil unions. There may be opinions and the church of course has binding teaching on sacramental marriage in a church, but that doesn't apply to the civil case. What actually was in the letter to the Times of London was actually an affirmation of the long-standing Catholic teaching that Catholic should follow their conscience. But also what is the real issue here? Let's say there was a dissent that I think experts around the world canon law, civil law, moral theology have all agreed about that philosophy. Let's say that this policy was in place and it's my opinion that it certainly wasn't. What about previous speakers who have spoken on this very issue including speakers who have come to speak to the CCTC, the center of Catholic culture who have publicly taken a line on this issue, but also would say a group of academics who supported Paul Ryan's economic policies which clearly are at odds with the Roman Catholic church's teaching on social justice, would they be disinvited? What about people who disagree with the church's teaching on artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage? What about people who would be opposed to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because the church was opposed to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are the implications of this judgment that Catholic academics are no longer allowed to speak publicly on civil issues this is even wider than academic freedom. It's about freedom of speech in society, freedom of speech and the church. Seems that a lack of consistency here and the lack of logic, and had people been consulted prior to this decision be made and put into the public domain, then we could have informed people about these issues. And what the fallout from it might potentially be. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Prof. Mannion has already told us that there is a protest scheduled at USD. Prof. Beattie, are you planning to protest this in any way? TINA BEATTIE: I think it is better if those directly involved take up this case in particular. You know I don't have any other associations with University of San Diego. What I have done is to protest my innocence of the charges made against me and the reason I've done that is because this is actually very important to me. It is in no way a threat to my academic position. My Vice Chancellor at University of Roehampton has been absolutely behind me and he's written a very long letter saying that to Pres. Mary Lyons and my position is secure. But I am a practicing Catholic and I do a lot of work with Catholic communities and churches, parishes, and I'm very very careful about the issues we are discussing. I would never ever question the doctrines of the church and there are very clear methods of being a theologian where there are certain issues which are revealed mysteries that one must reflect upon that deepens one's understanding. We don't count the number of persons in the Trinity, you know, and then there are questions that affect our common life with other people outside the church in complex changing, ethical social political circumstances. And so the enormous issues that juror just mentioned I think which there are wonderful teachings on war and social justice it is just a little bit grouchy about sex and sexuality at the moment. Which is absolutely not out of bounds. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I must end it here. I'm so sorry Prof. I must end it here. I'm completely out of time. I've been speaking with Prof. Tina Beattie Dr. Lawrence Hinman Prof. Gerard Mannion, thank you all so much for speaking with us today. ALL: Thank you very much.

The University of San Diego revoked a British theology professor’s speaking invitation last week because the professor signed a letter supporting civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in the United Kingdom.

USD Cancels Visit Over Academic's Same-Sex Marriage Support
The University of San Diego has withdrawn its speaking invitation to an English Catholic theologian. The professor signed a letter supporting civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in the United Kingdom.

The visit had been planned for more than a year.

Tina Beattie, a professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London, was scheduled to give a lecture on how women are represented in art depicting sin and redemption at the University of San Diego on November 8.


The Catholic university withdrew that invitation on October 27. In a letter, University President Mary Lyons explained it was because Beattie publicly dissents from the church’s moral teachings. That dissent, she wrote, is inconsistent with the mission school's Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, which was supposed to host Beattie's lecture, and "with the intentions of those who have financially supported the Center."

Beattie was one of 27 prominent Catholics who signed an August letter to The Times of London supporting the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, a step that she said is not out of line with Catholic academic traditions.

“I only question those questions of morals and social ethics that Catholic theologians have always questioned or we would never change," Beattie said. "We’d still be living as they did in the Middle Ages.”

Beattie said the withdrawn invitation raises concerns about the school’s commitment to academic freedom. The University of San Diego did not respond to requests for an interview by this story’s deadline.

Corrected: March 2, 2024 at 12:22 PM PST
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to this segment
KPBS Intern Rashmi Chugani assisted in this segment.