Well, it was only a matter of time before the BBC (or rather, the intelligentsia of Radio 4) came out against the ordinariate, following its usual tactic of maintaining a bogus appearance of impartiality while actually setting everything up to arrive at the wished-for conclusion. Hence, Edward Stourton on this week’s Sunday programme asked one Professor Tina Beattie to comment on the new body, without actually telling his listeners that Ms Beattie represents a very particular (and extreme) point of view within the Church. This is how the interview began.
Edward Stourton: Do all Britain’s Roman Catholics welcome the ordinariate, the body set up by Pope Benedict to allow disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining many of their own traditions. No, is the short answer. Tina Beattie teaches Catholic studies at Roehampton University and, Tina Beattie, your problem with this is what?
Tina Beattie: Well, I don’t want to call it a problem, but I think many of us are perplexed about what this means in terms of the Catholic Communion, and indeed obviously for relations between our two Churches. The Catholic Church has a unity that’s not based on likemindedness or sameness, and it’s very puzzling to know how this very homogenous, small group of likeminded people, offered a quasi-independent place within the Catholic Communion, is going to fit in and become part of us.
Stourton: And is your objection partly to do with the fact that you don’t like what they stand for? Particularly on the question of women’s role in the Church?
Beattie: I’m not happy about that, no. And I think actually, dare I say it, it’s a peculiarly Protestant thing to join a church because of what one doesn’t like, as a gesture of protest – that’s where the word comes from. It would be wonderful if they were coming in for the positives, and the joy, and the wonders of being part of this worldwide Communion.
This, of course, was what certain Catholic bishops were obsessively convinced of in the early 1990s: the convert Anglicans were just coming over for negative reasons, mostly because they didn’t like women in their priesthood. The signs are that some at least of the bishops, this time round, have actually got the point: asked by Radio Essex (BBC local radio is much less biased in a kneejerk liberal/left direction than Radio 4) whether the ordinariate was just about the issue of women bishops, Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood replied: “I don’t think it is, quite honestly. In the same way as 10 or 12 years ago it wasn’t just women priests. The central question that each of them is asking is: ‘Does any church have the authority to change what is of the apostolic tradition?’ … So it’s a question of authority and where that authority lies, and whether that authority has the ability… to change what is of the apostolic tradition. So I think that’s, much more, the heart of the question, rather than women priests or women bishops, actually”. The authority of the Church, of course, is a large part of what Professor Beattie doesn’t like about it: but let it pass.
But while we are about it, who does she think she is, implying that what the new converts are not coming over for are “the positives, and the joy, and the wonders of being part of this worldwide Communion”. (Stourton’s interjection “Perhaps they are, a bit..?” and her response, “I’m sure they are…” were deliberately unconvinced and unconvincing). I can assure her – and unlike her I know these people quite well – that all that is precisely what they are coming for: and not just “a bit”.
I ask who she thinks she is: well, unlike Edward Stourton, I will tell you who she is and where she is coming from. When the New Humanist asked a number of people, including Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and Claire Rayner, known to be hostile to the Pope, the question: “If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit… what would you say to him?”, one of two Catholics presented by the New Humanist as asking the question “stay or go?” – in other words whether to stay in the Catholic Church or leave it altogether – was Professor Tina Beattie. Her question for the Pope was: “Your Holiness, I hope your experience of the variety and vitality of British Catholicism will help you to understand the challenges we liberal Catholics face in maintaining a dialogue between our Catholic faith and secular society… conservative Catholics accuse us of betraying the Church because we are willing to debate questions such as women’s ordination, priestly celibacy and homosexuality… What would you do, in my situation?” She is, in brief, a radical feminist hostile to the Magisterium: her books include New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate: A Marian Narrative of Women’s Salvation (London and New York: Continuum, 2002) and Eve’s Pilgrimage: A Woman’s Quest for the City of God (London: Burns & Oates; New York: Continuum, 2002).
So when Stourton asked: “Do all Britain’s Roman Catholics welcome the ordinariate?” what he actually meant (though was too fly actually to say) was: “Do Catholic liberals and radical feminists welcome the ordinariate?” Well, of course they don’t: those who are joining the ordinariate are coming, in part at least, because in the Church of England (unlike the Church of Rome), those who think like Professor Beattie are in the ascendant and are in the process of suppressing those in their Church who think in a Catholic way: that’s one very good reason among others why so many Catholic-minded Anglicans are joining the Catholic Church itself.
It would have been nice if someone had been allowed on to the Sunday programme to point all this out. But that’s not how it works, of course; that’s why so few of us listen to the Sunday programme.