An internationally known preacher and writer known for pushing the boundaries of Catholic orthodoxy and a strong ally of Pope Francis was given a boost by the Holy See Saturday.
In a move sure to raise eyebrows among the Church’s traditional guard, Pope Francis named the Rev. Timothy Radcliffe a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Vatican announced Saturday.
The head of the Dominican Order for nearly a decade in the 1990s who now leads a social justice center at Oxford, the English-born Radcliffe has repeatedly challenged Catholic attitudes toward women, gays and lesbians, and the divorced.
Last year, Radcliffe was at the center of a controversy over his invitation to speak at the International Conference of Divine Mercy, Ireland’s largest Catholic gathering. The American television network EWTN dropped plans to cover the event because of Radcliffe’s participation. A host at the station called Radcliffe’s views “at sharp variance to Catholic teaching.”
The row was caused by comments Radcliffe made in 2013 about homosexuality, as reported by The Tablet.
“Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual, and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift,” he said. He expressed surprise that his views caused such a stir, stating that they were “deeply in resonance with the teaching of Pope Francis.”
Still, he has publicly supported the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, though for reasons not normally promulgated by Church officials.
For example, in a December 2012 article in The Guardian, Radcliffe wrote, “It is heartening to see the wave of support for gay marriages. It shows a society that aspires to an open tolerance of all sorts of people, a desire for us to live together in mutual acceptance.”
But, he said, a heterosexual notion of marriage should not be imposed on gay couples, though differences should be embraced.
Tolerance, he wrote, “implies an attention to the particularity of the other person, a savoring of how he or she is unlike me, in their faith, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation. A society that flees difference and pretends we are all just the same may have outlawed intolerance in one form, and yet instituted it in other ways.”
As a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Radcliffe is one of 40 or so people from around the globe who help “draw the broad lines of the action of the Counsel, according to their sensitivities and their professional and pastoral commitments,” according to the Vatican.
He is the author of more than a half-dozen books and an internationally sought after speaker. His book “What is the Point of Being a Christian?” won the 2007 Michael Ramsey Prize, which is awarded by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury for the “most promising contemporary theological writing from the global Church.”
Radcliffe, ordained in 1971, is also a proponent of opening up to communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, currently a hot topic among bishops participating in the Synod on the Family.
In a 2013 essay in America magazine, Radcliffe wrote that he held “two profound hopes. That a way will be found to welcome divorced and remarried people back to communion. And, most important, that women will be given real authority and voice in the Church. The pope expresses his desire that this may happen, but what concrete form can it take?”
Regarding the role of women in the Church, Radcliffe is in line with Pope Francis, who has said no to women’s ordination but who nonetheless wants women to hold positions of authority. Radcliffe lamented what he sees as a stronger fusion between ordination and decision-making offices in the Church.
“I think the women’s ordination question has become more acute now because the Church has become more clerical than in my childhood,” Radcliffe said in a 2010 interview with US Catholic.
Radcliffe has pushed for a more open Church, along the lines of Pope Francis’ assertion that the Church be willing to “make a mess of things.”
“Jesus offered a wide hospitality, and ate and drank with all sorts of people. We need to embody his open heart rather than retreat into a Catholic ghetto,” Radcliffe said in a 2013 interview.
Catholic bishops from around the world will gather in Rome in October for the second part of a contentious debate about family issues in the Church.