Tina Beattie, abortion morality, and the Catholic bishops in office but not in power

This is a guest post by Cardinal Mary Clarence.

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As is now well known, Professor Tina Beattie of Roehampton University and a member of CAFOD’s (Catholic Association for Overseas Development) theological reference group has signed an open letter to the Polish bishops calling for safe, legal abortion for disabled babies.

As is less well known, Tina Beattie was one of the organisers of the letter. She set up a secret Facebook group – her words – in order to brainstorm the letter’s wording and solicit signatures.

Tina Beattie

So, who is she?

Tina Beattie sells herself as an academic theologian who is also a practising Catholic. As one of a select group of women in this very small field she gets to pontificate in print, to be placed on committees, to be transported from radio to television studio where her opinions are sought and she is flattered and treated with high seriousness. The market for her theological ponderings (which, when stripped of what she imagines to be profound references to the “messiness” and “ambiguities” of life, boil down to a fixation with pelvic politics; a genuflection to libertinism) is a healthy one. Suckers are born every day. She must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Yet the joke is on her various high-profile supporters, who include Cardinal Ravasi, the bishops of England and Wales and CAFOD.

For Tina Beattie does not just take liberties with their indulgence; she works to undermine Catholic teaching on abortion from the inside. Tina Beattie’s actions are those of a religious entryist.

If that means she must use elaborate circumlocutions, or the double-think of claiming to support the sanctity of life on the one hand while demanding legal abortion on the other; if she must operate in clandestine semi-darkness to advance her project, she will do so.

The tactics are indistinguishable those deployed by the notorious anti-Catholic group Catholics for Choice (CFC): assemble a cluster of theologians, nutcase nuns and miscellaneous ‘pastoral workers’; and claim to speak in concert with Catholic tradition and call for ‘dialogue’. Beattie denies any involvement with CFC. Of course she does. The group was excommunicated in 1999. But CFC top brass are active on her Catholic Women Speak Facebook group, and scroll down through the list of the Beattie letter signatories and you’ll find Elriede Harth, CFC’s European representative.

Inevitably her letter has caused fury among the Catholic faithful who are not blind to the fact that abortion is a key plank of international development policies, rendering her position in CAFOD all the more concerning.

A petition calling on CAFOD to dispense with her services has been set up and stands at 4422 signatures at the time of writing.

In response, CAFOD issued the following statement, though it is unlikely to reassure the thousands who object to Beattie’s stance on abortion:

CAFOD’s position re Open Letter to the Polish Bishops’ Conference from Concerned Catholics on proposed changes to Poland’s Abortion Laws:

CAFOD is an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. We take this responsibility very seriously. As such, our policies and practice adhere to Church Teaching. CAFOD’s mandate from the Bishops’ Conference is focused on issues of international development.

The opinion expressed in the letter does not represent nor reflect CAFOD’s policies.

CAFOD appreciates the opportunity to dialogue with theologians on ethical issues arising from our work. We acknowledge that issues related to conscience, mercy and law are complex and have always been the subject of debate among Catholic moral theologians.  In practice CAFOD then makes its own decisions on policy and practice, always in accordance with Church teaching.

For her part, Beattie has reacted to the storm of outrage by adopting a pose of pious victimhood, only slightly marred by hysteria. Naturally she has blamed the Internet for her woes, bemoaning “vicious distortions and malicious accusations currently being generated in tweets and blogs”, and that reliable staple “misogyny”.

But that is not all. She has also produced a rambling, grandly-entitled Public Statement on her Theological Positions, claiming a distinction between the law and morality, which she undoubtedly applies to other difficult policies such as FGM.

No word has yet come from the bishops, but any failure to denude Beattie of all her positions in Catholic life will not only put them at odds with their brother Polish bishops and grassroots Catholic opinion in this country, it will give the impression of an episcopacy in office but in not in power.