Aid agency Cafod is to keep Catholic academic Tina Beattie as a theological adviser, resisting pressure to sever links over her views on abortion.
Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, had signed an open letter to Polish bishops urging support for “early, safe and legal” abortion.
Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement that the views in the letter “do not represent nor reflect Cafod’s policies”.
It said it “naturally values our ongoing dialogue with academic theologians who have always debated complex moral issues” and clarified that the advisory group she serves on, the Theological Reference Group, was “not a policy or decision-making body”.
The statement said, however, that Cafod would be reviewing the “role, status and membership expectations” of its advisory groups, including the Theological Reference Group, after a board meeting next month.
The statement said: “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, including protecting the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.
“In all of our long-term development and humanitarian relief work, we do not fund any work that is in any way inconsistent with the teaching of the Church,” the statement said.
“Cafod appreciates the opportunity to dialogue with many external specialists in all areas of our work who offer their services on a voluntary basis,” the statement said. “Cafod then makes its own decisions on policy and practice, all of which are agreed by its board.”
The letter signed by Beattie began: “We uphold the sanctity of all human life, including the right to life of women and their unborn children.” It continued: “We also acknowledge that sometimes women and girls face agonising decisions about whether or not to continue with a pregnancy that is the consequence of an act of sexual violence; that poses a serious threat to their own health, or that would result in the birth of a profoundly disabled or terminally ill child.
“While we respect those who decide to continue with such a pregnancy, we do not believe that this decision can be imposed upon them through moral coercion, and far less through the force of law,” the letter stated.
“In our view, the latter constitutes a violation of a woman’s freedom of conscience and personal dignity, and it runs counter to the Catholic tradition’s distinction between morality and legality. The law should not be used to control a person’s moral life, except when that person’s behaviour poses a threat to society.”