Loyal Dissent

Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 314
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    Loyal Dissent
    Book Description:

    Loyal Dissent is the candid and inspiring story of a Catholic priest and theologian who, despite being stripped of his right to teach as a Catholic theologian by the Vatican, remains committed to the Catholic Church. Over a nearly fifty-year career, Charles E. Curran has distinguished himself as the most well-known and the most controversial Catholic moral theologian in the United States. On occasion, he has disagreed with official church teachings on subjects such as contraception, homosexuality, divorce, abortion, moral norms, and the role played by the hierarchical teaching office in moral matters. Throughout, however, Curran has remained a committed Catholic, a priest working for the reform of a pilgrim church. His positions, he insists, are always in accord with the best understanding of Catholic theology and always dedicated to the good of the church. In 1986, years of clashes with church authorities finally culminated in a decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, that Curran was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology. As a result of that Vatican condemnation, he was fired from his teaching position at Catholic University of America and, since then, no Catholic university has been willing to hire him. Yet Curran continues to defend the possibility of legitimate dissent from those teachings of the Catholic faith-not core or central to it-that are outside the realm of infallibility. In word and deed, he has worked in support of more academic freedom in Catholic higher education and for a structural change in the church that would increase the role of the Catholic community-from local churches and parishes to all the baptized people of God. In this poignant and passionate memoir, Curran recounts his remarkable story from his early years as a compliant, pre-Vatican II Catholic through decades of teaching and writing and a transformation that has brought him today to be recognized as a leader of progressive Catholicism throughout the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-363-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Beginnings
    (pp. 1-26)

    I was born in Rochester, New York, in 1934. My parents, John F. Curran and Gertrude Beisner Curran, both came from New York City, but my father moved to Rochester in 1926. They were married in 1927 and lived in Rochester the rest of their lives. I was the third of four children. My older brother, John (Jack), was born in 1929; my sister, Kathryn (Kay), in 1931; my younger brother, Ernest, in 1937. Most of us had nicknames generally given by my older brother: I was Chase. Friends who knew me as a youngster still call me Chase, but...

  6. CHAPTER 2 CUA: The Early Years
    (pp. 27-48)

    When I arrived at CUA in 1965, the university, which had opened in 1889, was both a pontifical university canonically erected by the Vatican and an American institution incorporated in the District of Columbia and accredited by American accrediting agencies. CUA was a charter member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, founded in 1909; unfortunately, a few years ago the university resigned from the group because of its inability to live up to the standards involved. The primary emphasis of the university from the start was on providing graduate education and degrees for Catholics, although an undergraduate college was...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Uproar over Humanae Vitae
    (pp. 49-70)

    During the strike, we tried to keep the focus on the procedural issue that the trustees had overridden the votes of my colleagues and fired me without a hearing. But everyone knew I had been fired because of my position on artificial contraception, and this issue was not going to go away.

    In the mid-1960s Pope Paul VI announced that he had set up a commission to study the question of birth control. He had not allowed the Second Vatican Council to discuss the issue while this commission was at work. Ironically, during the April 1967 strike at CUA, the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Growing Tensions and Maturing Theology: The Seventies
    (pp. 71-106)

    What would happen in the Catholic Church after Humanae vitae? This encyclical clearly disappointed those of us who were expecting change after Vatican II. Would the encyclical usher in an era of increased tensions and polarization in the church?

    As the 1970s began, I had the feeling that despite the brouhaha over Humanae vitae, the tensions in the church would abate rather than harden. The reaction to the encyclical showed that a strong majority of theologians supported the legitimacy of dissent. In their 1969 pastoral letter Human Life in Our Day, the U.S. bishops had explicitly recognized the legitimacy of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Investigation and Condemnation
    (pp. 107-136)

    On August 2, 1979, Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, then the archbishop of Washington and the chancellor, ex officio, of CUA, handed me a letter signed by Cardinal Franjo Seper, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informing me that I was under investigation. In accordance with their procedures, in the first step of the investigation the CDF had found “errors and ambiguities” in my writings and was sending me the enclosed sixteen pages of “Observations,” to which I was to respond.¹

    The “fundamental observation” was my “misconception of the specific competence of the authentic magisterium of...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 6 More Trials
    (pp. 137-160)

    I have had no communication from the Vatican since Ratzinger’s letter of July 25, 1986, informing me that I was neither suitable nor eligible to teach Catholic theology. What effect would this declaration have on me? That question would be answered by CUA and, ultimately, by the courts.¹

    In his letter to me of August 18, 1986, and in the conversation that followed, Hickey told me that on the basis of the Vatican decision, approved by the pope, he, as chancellor of CUA, was initiating the withdrawal of the canonical mission that allowed me to teach theology there. According to...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Life after Condemnation
    (pp. 161-186)

    What does a Catholic theologian condemned by the Vatican and legally terminated from a tenured professorship do? From the beginning, I assumed that on the basis of my teaching and publications I could get some kind of teaching position in moral theology or, as it is often called in Protestant circles, Christian ethics. What had happened to me obviously closed some doors, but it could open others. In the end I found a very stimulating position as Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. But the path from CUA to SMU was hardly without...

  13. CHAPTER 8 My Moral Theology
    (pp. 187-208)

    At a theology institute many years ago, I was talking about faith as the fundamental option we make that orients our entire life and all the choices we make. My Protestant theological partner asked me why I was a Catholic. At first I was quite flustered by the question. I knew my friend well enough to know that he was not trying to give me a hard time, but the question perplexed me. Then the light dawned. He was keeping my feet on earth with a call to realism. I was a Catholic because my parents were Catholics and raised...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Development of Theology in the Past Fifty Years
    (pp. 209-236)

    A few years ago Tom Roberts, the editor of the National Catholic Reporter, asked me if I thought there were today or would be in the future any theological giants comparable to the leading theologians of the Vatican II period. In his view there were not, and he saw this as one of the problems facing the church in our times. I disagreed with him, and he asked me to write an article for the National Catholic Reporter on the subject.¹

    Fascinating developments have taken place in Catholic theology, and in moral theology in particular, in the past fifty years....

  15. CHAPTER 10 My Relationship to the Catholic Church
    (pp. 237-260)

    After the Vatican condemned me in 1986, many people asked why I stayed in the Catholic Church. I was certainly hurt by the Vatican’s action. My primary role in the church had always been as a moral theologian, and in many ways this was my vocation. But now I stood condemned as a Catholic theologian by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the pope himself.

    In recent years, this question has taken a slightly different form: “Why stay in the church when there seems to be no hope for the church?” We who rejoiced in the reforms...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 261-276)
  17. Published Works of Charles E. Curran
    (pp. 277-282)
  18. Index
    (pp. 283-297)