CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

November 11, 2012

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


British Theologian Disinvited from Fellowship at California Catholic Campus

November 2, 2012

Professor Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie, a prominent Catholic theologian has been disinvited from a visiting fellowship at the University of San Diego, a Catholic campus in southern California because she “dissents” from church teaching, possibly because of her support for  same-sex marriage.

Beattie had been invited to be a fellow at USD’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.  USD’s President Mary Lyons sent her a letter rescinding the fellowship which stated the reason the school’s action:

“The Center’s primary mission, consistent with those who have financially supported the Center, is to provide opportunities to engage the Catholic intellectual tradition in its diverse embodiments.

“This would include clear and consistent presentations concerning the Church’s moral teachings, teaching with which you, as a Catholic theologian, dissent publicly. 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 has been extended to you.”

Beattie, who teaches at Roehampton University in England pointed out that the letter offered no specifics about what the university believes she is dissenting about, but she did note that she was disinvited from another event because of her support of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Beattie expressed concern less about her own situation and more about what such a decision portends for Catholic academia.  She said the cancellation was

“symptomatic of something very new and very worrying.

“It’s unheard of, certainly in Britain, for a theologian in my position to feel threatened by this kind of action. It’s not about me; it’s about some change in the culture of the Catholic church that we should be very, very concerned about.”

In a statement on her blog, Beattie expanded on this concern for academic freedom:

“The cancellation of my visit is not the most important issue in all this. 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 (some of whom are ordained deacons and priests) to command the attention and support of the CDF. The latter is the most sinister development of all, and it is a cause for scandal which brings the Church into disrepute. However, it also shows how deep this crisis has become.”

In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Beattie used her strongest language to describe the university’s decision, saying that the institution was “colluding in the Sovietisation” of Roman Catholic intellectual life.

Theologians on both sides of the Atlantic have come to Beattie’s support.  The National Catholic Reporter quotes two prominent scholars:

” ‘This is an insult to a well-respected theologian who I know, whose work I know and who I think has always been entirely appropriate in the ways in which she’s developed and expressed her views,’ Jean Porter, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, told NCR.

” ‘It is deeply dispiriting that the President of a Catholic University should characterize academic discussion and debate among Catholics as “dissent,” and should seek to suppress academic exchange by black-balling an individual whom the Church has not condemned,’ Eamon Duffy, a professor of Christian history at the University of Cambridge and a former member of the Pontifical Historical Commission, wrote in an email to Lyons, which he shared with NCR.

“Duffy cites the writing of 19th-century Catholic convert John Henry Newman in his letter.

“Newman ‘criticized the “shortsightedness” of those who “have thought that the strictest Catholic University could by its rules and its teachings exclude” intellectual challenges to faith,’ Duffy wrote.

” ‘The cultivation of the intellect involves that danger, and where it is absolutely excluded, there is no cultivation,’ writes Duffy, quoting Newman.”

In an email to friends, Beattie recommended writing to USD’s president, Dr. Mary Lyons, if they wanted to protest the school’s decision.  Beattie suggested writing to Dr. Lyons’ administrative assistant,.Elaine Atencio, at atencio@sandiego.edu.

Beattie also urged friends to express support to Professor Gerard Mannion, Director of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and CultureProfessor Mannion, who originally invited her to be a visiting fellow.  He can be reached at gesmannion@gmail.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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