­Father Timothy Radcliffe’s Designation as Synod on Synodality’s Retreat Master Stirs Anxiety| National Catholic Register

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

NEWS ANALYSIS: While the prominent Dominican has decried political polarization in the Church, his appointment itself could fuel the polarization in the synodal process, given his public dissent from Church teachings on homosexuality.

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe is shown speaking in 2019.
Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe is shown speaking in 2019. (photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Joan Frawley Desmond VaticanJanuary 27, 2023

Last year, in an August 2021 video posted on the Synod of Bishops’ website, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe —  a controversial British theologian who has publicly contradicted Church teachings on homosexuality— decried political polarization and the fact that the “Church itself has been touched by these sterile culture wars.” 

Father Radcliffe, who served as head of his Dominican order from 1992 to 2001, urged Catholics to “transcend this fear of difference” by imagining the experiences that shaped the opinions of fellow believers with opposing views. 

But now, Father Radcliffe himself has become part of an already contentious debate over the goals and methodology of Pope Francis’ global Synod on Synodality. 

Barely a week after the late Cardinal George Pell’s posthumous critique of a “toxic” synodal process prompted Francis’ supporters to rush to his defense, the Dominican priest’s unexpected appointment to preach a three-day retreat before the October session of the synod is stirring additional concerns about the direction of this complex process.

Russell Shaw, the Catholic author and Church historian, told the Register that he was reserving judgment on the significance of Father Radcliffe’s role as the synodal assembly’s retreat master. But Shaw observed that a retreat preceding a Synod of Bishops appeared to be something new. 

Likewise, he noted that additional protocols announced by synod organizers that restricted the role of bishops had already fueled alarm that the process was being manipulated to secure a particular outcome, such as a rejection of Church teaching on homosexuality.

Dominican sources contacted by the Register offered a mixed response to the news on Father Radcliffe. 

One Dominican who did not want his name used said the priest was “controversial even within the order” and expressed doubt that the Register would “find anyone willing to go on the record.” 

Another member of the Order of Preachers praised Father Radcliffe’s gifts as a retreat director and said he was widely respected by fellow Dominicans.

A popular speaker, Father Radcliffe is the author of What Is the Point of Being a Christian?, which won the 2007 Michael Ramsey Prize, awarded by the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury for the “most promising contemporary theological writing from the global Church.”

Support for Same-Sex Relationships

Over the last two decades, Father Radcliffe, 77, has publicly challenged Church teaching on homosexuality.

In a 2005 article, “Can Gays Be Priests?” published in The Tablet, a British Catholic publication, Father Radcliffe challenged a papal document that directed seminaries to bar candidates with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

In the 2013 Anglican Pilling Report, he wrote that when considering same-sex relationships, “we cannot begin with the question of whether it is permitted or forbidden! We must ask what it means and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and nonviolent. So in many ways, I think it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” 

A year earlier, in a December 2012 article in The Guardian, he applauded the “wave of support for gay marriages” as “heartening” evidence of growing social “tolerance” and “mutual acceptance.”

But he appeared to reject the argument in favor of same-sex civil marriage as an antidote to promiscuity because same-sex couples in legal unions would now be free to embrace the stabilizing practice of monogamy. Rather, he suggested that traditional notions of marriage need not necessarily apply to these couples. 

“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,” he wrote, advising his readers to accept differences in martial practices.

These statements, which mark the priest’s long-standing ministry to “LGBTQ” Catholics at a London parish, drew headlines, but did not appear to affect the Dominican’s standing at the Vatican. 

In 2015, Father Radcliffe was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Previously, he served as director of the Las Casas Institute of Blackfriars, Oxford, which promotes social justice and human rights. 

He is also a “witness” expert to the Synod of Bishops. 


­Father Timothy Radcliffe’s Designation as Synod on Synodality’s Retreat Master Stirs Anxiety| National Catholic Register

Leave a Reply