Fr. Curran And His Allies

Since the 1968 rejection of "Humanae Vitae" by Catholic University of America professor Charles E. Curran and hundreds of other academics in Catholic colleges, universities, and seminaries, the theological disorientation that had taken place in American moral theology was starkly revealed. Widespread dissent and disobedience came to characterize the life of the Church in the United States with devastating effects. It has become a commonplace observation - and one, moreover, trumpeted in the secular media that millions of Catholics no longer believe in Catholic dogmatic and moral teachings but still call themselves Catholics.

Catholics faithful to the Magisterium remain scandalized by what they view as the phenomenon of dissent becomes chronic and entrenched in the U.S. Church. Such dissent was declared by Pope John Paul II to be "opposed to ecclesial communion... and can not be seen as a legitmate expression of Christian freedom" (See James J. Drummy's "Catholic Replies" in The Wanderer, 5/15/14). Such dissent verging on heresy or actual heresy remains poorly addressed by U.S. bishops confronted by serious fractures and fissures affecting the Unity of the Church. As everyone knows, since Vatican II a whole series of teachers and theologians, and even some bishops have expounded novel doctrines, bringing into question - without exaggeration - every article of the Creed.

One of the major innovators on the American scene was (and remains) Charles E. Curran, a Rochester, NY, diocesan priest who after he was no longer allowed to teach Catholic theology, found a teaching post as the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist Univesity in Dallas, TX.. The author of 37 books, Curran's relativism and subjectivism have had their malignant effect regarding sexual morality and the infallibility of the Church. Needless to note, any hoped-for successful Evangelization on the American scene is threatened and endangered by the millions who have undergone the influence of Curran-like teachings to accept the legitimacy of dissent from definitive Catholic teachings while claiming to remain faithful or "good" Catholics.

Four decades have witnessed such "progressive" organs as the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Commonweal, and the Jesuit magazine America, furthering dissent and disobedience in the Church. They have long oozed sympathy and support for the "evolving moral theology" of Fr. Curran which gave sanction to the intrinsic moral evils of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality, not to mention other deviations from Catholic moral teachings based on the natural law and divine Revelation (including his rejection of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage).

There was clearly no place for "Dead Absolutes" in such books as Curran's "The Living Tradition of Catholic Moral Theology" (title of his 1993 work published by the University of Notre Dame Press). It should not be forgotten that Curran was to note with particular pleasure the U.S. Bishops' pastoral letter on Humanae Vitae which explicitly affirmed the legitimacy of dissent by theologians. It remains to be known which bishops pressed for inclusion of such a bogus "right to dissent" in a pastoral letter. Curran candidly noted its consequence:

"The great chasm between Catholic practice and hierarchical teaching calls into question the believability of the hierarchical teaching office itself."
(NCR, 7/16/93)

In America (3/17,14) Edward Vacek, S.J., who is Stephen Duffey Chair of Catholic Studies at Loyola University New Orleans, has followed in the wake of previous moral theologians (John L. Thomas, S.J., John Coleman, S.J., Richard McCormick, S.J., and Robert Springer, S.J., not to mention other Jesuits) who have supported Curran's unravelling the fabric of Catholic moral theology on sexuality to the detriment of the faith.

In a flattering review of Curran's latest volume "The Development of Moral Theology: Five Strands" published by Georgetown University Press, Vacek expresses his admiration for Curran's "inspiring" revisionist understanding of the Catholic Tradition allowing "some to question official teaching and some to offer fresh defense of it." Apparently, according to both Curran and Vacek, we can take our pick either to question or defend Catholic teaching in accordance with "Curran's own relational-responsibility ethics." Vacek writes how Curran's ethics explain why we can dissent in the face of Curran's contention that "the church become papalized. Being a Catholic came to mean obeying the pope." Neither Curran nor Vacek comprehend that the proper role of the theologian in the Church is not to undermine its authentic magisterial teaching or to spread a pernicious dissent endangering the salvation of souls.

The history of the "Curran Case" is extremely important. It reveals much concerning the failure of U.S.Bishops and many others in the U.S. Church to grasp the enormity of what was happening in Catholic theology. Curran's Bishop, Matthew H. Clark, rushed to support him in solidarity as Rome began to express its doctrinal concerns:

"Some members of the Catholic Church have occasionally depicted Fr. Curran as irreverent, disrespectful, disloyal and unprofessional. I believe he is none of these. Such judgments... are sometimes written by those in the church who do not understand the probing and testing nature of the theological enterprise...Few theologians have a better grasp of or express more clearly the fullness of the Catholic moral tradition."
(Bishop, Matthew H. Clark)

Other bishops certainly agreed with Curran's Ordinary. For Bishop Clark, throughout his pastorship of the diocese, Fr. Curran was "a priest in good standing", even after he was declared in 1986 unfit to teach Catholic theology by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. From the very beginning of the controversy regarding his dissent from "Humanae Vitae", solidarity with Fr. Curran was expressed by members of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America (CUA), the Catholic Biblical Society, the Catholic Theological Society of America, the College Theology Society, and many other groups such as New Ways Ministry, and the radical feminist Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Dissenters in the Church who reject the teachings of Jesus Christ on moral matters continue to muddy the waters of sound doctrine as we see in current controversies on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, admission of pro-abortion politicans to Holy Communion, and reception of Holy Communion by the divorced-and-remarried. Should such dissenters desire a rationale for their desired changes in Catholic doctrine, they can easily find it in the article "Dissent, theology of" included in the "New Catholic Encyclopedia". Believe it or not, it was written by Charles E. Curran.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic"
- Pope John Paul II -