Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The supernova of liberal Catholicism


There has been a lot of comment this week over Tina Beattie's contribution to the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 last week. Fr Ray compares her to a future mother-in-law who has just met her son's new bride; James Preece highlights some of her befuddled logic about likemindedness; and William Oddie wants to know who she thinks she is.

But Oddie also arrives at this conclusion:

Those who think like Professor Beattie are in the ascendant [among Anglicans] and are in the process of suppressing those in their Church who think in a Catholic way.

In the Catholic Church, of course, the fact is Beattie is simply not something young, fresh and ascendant, neither theologically nor sociologically. What she represents is a classic stage of all revolutionary movements when mature upstarts treat their own categories as procrustean dogma. That is why she has the cheek to take a pop at the Ordinariate!

On the other hand, there are very few young Catholics who are consciously liberal à la Beattie. When they do adopt a line of doctrinal flexibility (or should that be 'flabibility'?) - as evidenced in Mark Dowd's programme back in September - it is generally because they never knew the doctrine in the first place. Beattie herself might plead the same, though her professoral status surely gives her responsibilities in that department.

And that's another thing. I cannot help thinking that some people might be bothered about Beattie because he is suffering here from an old British class instinct. Still, Beattie isn't professor at Oxford for crying out loud! What she does have is media leverage, possibly through her contacts, but above all probably because she both wears an establishment-recognised hat, and apparently shares many of that establishment's convictions. Am I the only one who cannot remember Beattie ever once defending an emblematic Catholic doctrine in the public sphere? Please remind me if I have forgotten.

So, the Beatties of the Church are far from in the ascendancy. The great irony of the 'tradition' (yes, hear the ironic ring) of liberal Catholicism, which Beattie appears now to epitomise, is that since Humanae Vitae it has both consumed many of its potential successors and broken the principle of magisterial authority which could have made it different from any other self-secularising strand of Christianity. I don't know where Beattie personally stands on H.V. either personally or professionally. For all I know, she might have ten children and be a defender of Evangelium Vitae ... Still in many other respects Beattie is part of a supernova; or to take another astronomical metaphor, we can be sure that sooner or later liberal Catholicism will collapse in on itself.

And so what if they have the microphones? As the great Andrès Segovia once remarked, people who use microphones just sound like they are in a tin box.


Seth said...

I think you may have misunderstood what Oddie was saying: the comment you highlighted was talking about the Anglican Church. Therein, it is fairly clear that liberals are indeed in the ascendancy, and have been effective at pushing out the Catholic element of the C of E and restricting the influence of the evangelicals.

I agree that in the Catholic Church liberals will burn themselves out and probably already are doing, although I suspect there is more damage they can achieve yet. That, I believe, is what Oddie was getting at.

I'm not sure what class has to do with it: rather, as you say, that Beattie represents not just dissent, but dissent with a prominent voice and, as far as I can tell, an ideology that overrides intellect. One strongly suspects that she is a Catholic only because if she were not, no one would listen to her.

Though to be fair, I did enjoy her line of argument about the Ordinariate: we're diverse and not all like-minded, so we can't have people who aren't like-minded to us... spectacular!

Ches said...

You're right, Seth. I have corrected the piece. That's what comes of blogging in the early morning light!

Londiniensis said...

Not only the microphones, but also the bishops' thrones ...

(dammit, what is the plural of "cathedra" - cathedrae or cathedras?)

Sue Sims said...

Interesting question. If we take it just as a Latin word, it would be 'cathedrae' (; but since it's a loan-word from Greek, perhaps it should be 'cathedres'!