A Facile Openness to Post-Modernism.

Further to my comments yesterday regarding Prof. Tina Beattie's controversial and open dissent, I wanted to look deeper at the problem to illustrate that I am not just being rude about an individual, but rather, I feel, undertaking an important critique of an untenable Catholic position.

The point is not to attack an individual, but to demonstrate that for such academic positions to remain unchallenged and unclarified by those who's duty it is to shepherd the faithful, constitutes the source of a great deal of our malaise in the Church. As I stated yesterday, at the most basic level it seems obvious that our unity is utterly dependent on our common profession of faith. When we compromise the integrity of that professed faith, unity ceases to be a reality.

Theologians like Beattie have attempted to assimilate post-modern ideas into Catholic theology in an attempt to help the faithful feel more comfortable in the "real" world. The demonstrable reality is that this approach serves only to marginalise faith, to make it something of a anachronistic tradition solely practised on Sundays.

Once we rob our faith of its objectivity, it becomes nothing more than an instrument of human willfulness; a means by which I am able to shape the behaviour of those who might impede me in the satisfaction of my own desires. Pope St. John Paul II illustrates this is, in reality, radically unstable (cf. Veritatis splendor n. 1, 99, 105, 106). Here, he is not just writing about any single issue, but rather the whole foundations of morality, and that God's revelation of Himself and faith responding to that revelation, because these dissenting positions are implausible unless one starts from a post-enlightenment, rather than a Catholic, conception of the Bible. One can then employ a theory of revelation which precludes its use as a standard for evaluation theological theories and contemporary "Christian" experience. (perhaps best demonstrated in the case of Tina Beattie, by this) This is why Veritatis splendor is rooted in Scripture; without such a Catholic perspective we live, no longer as "slaves to righteousness" but "according to the flesh"--Gal 5:13.

The re-affirmation of objective truth by the Magisterium is essential for Catholicism and for Catholics and needs to go further. The faithful need fundamental definitive judgement on certain "re-conceptions" of revelation & faith which are as dissenting moral opinions, as widespread in Scripture scholarship & fundamental theology as they are in moral theology.

Such definitions demarcate the Catholic position, provide a service to the faithful who could feel confident in holding a Catholic position and clarify the basis of their belief as well as demonstrating where the unity of the faith, and this of Christ's Church, in truth resides.

Using Professor Beatties comments, referred to yesterday, we can demonstrate precisely my point. Beattie clearly, openly, regularly and consistently contradicts both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Magisterium – just as Fr Charles Curran does and did leading up to the CDF writing to him in 1986 to explain that he could "no longer be considered suitable nor eligible to exercise the function of a professor of Catholic theology."

My argument is that, like Fr Curran, she cannot be regarded by any objective criteria to be a teacher of Catholic Theology.

Compare & contrast:

Prof Beattie writes:
“Those of us who tried to answer the questionnaire honestly and in a way that might be helpful to the synod on the family are misrepresented by Edmund Adamus’s ‘reflection’.

Like most other Catholics I know, I respect the Church’s teaching on marriage and parenthood. I also know from experience that marriage and family life can induce agonies of guilt over our inevitable failures and shortcomings. However, I do not experience guilt over deciding in good conscience to use contraception to limit the number of children we had. I do not feel ashamed of my adult children for cohabiting with partners who have enriched our lives by their friendship. I do not feel compelled to pass negative judgement on the loving relationships of my gay friends. I am glad that some of my divorced Catholic friends have found joy in second marriages, and I want to share the sacraments with them. In other words, I’m like the vast majority of Catholics whose answers to the questionnaire have been made public.
I seek from the Church the formation I know I need most – formation that has to do with love and generosity of spirit, with faithfulness and integrity, with wisdom and discretion, with prayer and discernment. The list is long, but it does not include learning to regard contraception, premarital sex and homosexuality as intrinsically evil, nor does it include regarding divorced and remarried Catholics as people uniquely barred from the forgiveness offered by Christ in the sacraments.”
The CDF letter to Charles Curran reads thus (with my emphasis on the relevant parts:

July 25, 1986
Reverend Prof. Curran,

This Congregation wishes to acknowledge receipt of your letter of April 1, 1986, with which you enclosed your definitive reply to its critical observations on various positions you have taken in your published work. You note that you "remain convinced of the truthfulness of these positions at the present time." You reiterate as well a proposal which you have called a "compromise" according to which you would continue to teach moral theology but not in the field of sexual ethics.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Congregation has confirmed its position that one who dissents from the Magisterium as you do is not suitable nor eligible to teach Catholic theology. Consequently, it declines your compromise solution because of the organic unity of authentic Catholic theology, a unity which in its content and method is intimately bound to fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium.

The several dissenting positions which this Congregation contested, namely, on a right to public dissent from the ordinary Magisterium, the indissolubility of consummated sacramental marriage, abortion, euthanasia, masturbation, artificial contraception, premarital intercourse and homosexual acts, were listed carefully enough in the above-mentioned observations in July of 1983 and have since been published. There is no point in entering into any detail concerning the fact that you do indeed dissent on these issues.

There is, however, one concern which must be brought out. Your basic assertion has been that since your positions are convincing to you and diverge only from the "non-infallible" teaching of the church, they constitute "responsible" dissent and should therefore be allowed by the church. In this regard, the following considerations seem to be in order.

First of all, one must remember the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which clearly does not confine the infallible Magisterium purely to matters of faith nor to solemn definitions. Lumen Gentium, No. 25 states: "When, however, they (the bishops) even though spread throughout the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion between themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching on matters of faith or morals, are in agreement that a particular position ought to be held as definitive, then they are teaching the doctrine of Christ in an infallible manner." Besides this, the church does not build its life upon its infallible Magisterium alone but on the teaching of its authentic, ordinary Magisterium as well.

In light of these considerations, it is clear that you have not taken into adequate account, for example, that the church’s position on the indissolubility of sacramental and consummated marriage, which you claim ought to be changed, was in fact defined at the Council of Trent and so belongs to the patrimony of the faith. You likewise do not give sufficient weight to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council when in full continuity with the tradition of the church it condemned abortion, calling it an "unspeakable crime." In any case, the faithful must accept not only the infallible Magisterium. They are to give the religious submission of intellect and will to the teaching which the supreme pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act. This you have continued to refuse to do.

There are, moreover, two related matters which have become widely misunderstood in the course of the Congregation’s inquiry into your work, especially in the past few months, and which should be noted. First, you publicly claimed that you were never told who your "accusers" were. The Congregation based its inquiry exclusively on your published works and on your personal responses to its observations. In effect, then, your own works have been your "accusers" and they alone.

You further claimed that you were never given the opportunity of counsel. Since the inquiry was conducted on a documentary basis, you had every opportunity to take any type of counsel you wished. Moreover, it is clear that you did so. When you replied to the Congregation’s observations with your letter of Aug. 24, 1984, you stated that you had taken the positions you have "with a great deal...of consultation"; and in the Congregation’s letter of Sept. 17, 1985, you were actually urged to continue the use of that very means so that an acceptable resolution of the differences between you and the teaching of the church could be attained. Finally, at your own request, when you came for our meeting on March 8, 1986, you were accompanied by a theologian of your own choosing and confidence.

In conclusion, this Congregation calls attention to the fact that you have taken your dissenting positions as a professor of theology in an ecclesiastical faculty at a pontifical university. In its letter of Sept. 17, 1985, to you, it was noted that "the authorities of the church cannot allow the present situation to continue in which the inherent contradiction is prolonged that one who is to teach in the name of the church in fact denies her teaching." In light of your repeated refusal to accept what the church teaches and in light of its mandate to promote and safeguard the church’s teaching on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world, this Congregation, in agreement with the Congregation for Catholic Education, sees no alternative now but to advise the most reverend chancellor that you will no longer be considered suitable nor eligible to exercise the function of a professor of Catholic theology.

This decision was presented to His Holiness in an Audience granted to the undersigned Prefect on the 10th of July of this year, and he approved both its content and the procedure followed.
This Dicastery also wishes to inform you that this decision will be published as soon as it is communicated to you.

May I finally express the sincere hope that this regrettable, but necessary, outcome to the Congregation’s study might move you to reconsider your dissenting positions and to accept in its fullness the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 

* AAS 79 (1987), 116-118. 


  1. Another good piece. Her position is an interesting one as she's not, I think, a theologian. I wonder whether anyone, except those already disposed to be looking for ways out of obeying the Church, takes any notice of her?

  2. "Theologians like Beattie have attempted to assimilate post-modern ideas into Catholic theology in an attempt to help the faithful feel more comfortable in the "real" world."

    This is an interesting view but can you justify it?
    My own suspicion is that Mrs Beattie has not really grasped the difference between revelation and the products of her own, and others', speculative reasoning. This is possibly an easy trap for academics to fall into- particularly if their studies are undertaken in a non-Catholic environment. According to Wikipedia she graduated in Theology at the University of Bristol which is not, to my knowledge, a Catholic institution.

    1. Well, her latest research monograph, Theology After Postmodernity: Divining the Void, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 and seems to me a reasonable signpost to her methodology and reasoning. Whenever I read anything by her it always seems aimed at synthesising (or compromising) Catholic doctrine and objectively sinful acts such as contraception, abortion, etc.

      I think that "post-modernism" is an appropriate term for the attempt to manipulate moral theology to fit with modern secular ideas about contraception, abortion, etc, as articulated particularly by theologians critical of Humanae vitae like Fuchs, Haring, McCormick, Curran, Knaer, Janssens, etc...Does that make sense?


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