Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologianby Charles E. Curran
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/i>
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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.
"To some Fr. Curran is a radical progressive; to others, and angry dissident. The truth is that he is neither... Read the book." -- National Catholic Reporter
"For an intellectually gifted young man like Curran, there could be no going back to a time when theologians simply submitted to ecclesiastical censorship. Whether one ultimately agrees with Curran or not, his story is a reminder that when ideas lose their intrinsic power to command assent, authority can only do so much." -- Commonweal
"An inspiration. It is the story of a man totally dedicated to his vocation as theologian and priest, one who was treated harshly and unjustly and harbors no slightest touch of bitterness... His book is entertaining, enlightening, challenging and hope-filled." -- Doctrine & Life
"Readers here encounter both an autobiographical work and a reflective memoir chronicling Curran's evolving moral reasoning. He adroitly confronts established moral tenets with the brilliance of a scholar and the sensitivity of a seasoned pastor." -- Library Journal
"Curran is a clear and engaging writer, and Loyal Dissent introduces us to many compelling personalities in the American Catholic Church, in its Roman guard, and in Catholic higher education, even as it provides us with a familial invitation into the lives of priest-professors from the 1950s to the present time." -- Journal of Religion
"[Curran] thinks laypeople ought not to be powerless within their own church. In short, he believes in freedom of thought and speech within his own religion." -- Fort Worth Weekly
"As this newly released memoir recounts, at a relatively young age Curran became, by choice and circumstance, the most infamous American Catholic theologian of his time." -- America
"A compelling look into the machinery of one of the world's largest religious communities. Curran reflects on both his ongoing commitment to the church that condemned him and his responsibility to challenge its positions." -- Science & Spirit
"The book deserves a wide readership, if not for learning about a critique of US Catholicism after Vatican II, then surely for drawing inspiration from the narrative of one moral theologian's fidelity and commitment to the best in the Catholic tradition." -- The Jurist
Read an Excerpt
The election of a pope is a very important event in the life of the Catholic Church. The papal election in April 2005 was more significant than most, coming after the twenty-six-year papacy of Pope John Paul II. On April 18–19, attention focused on the 115 cardinals in the Sistine Chapel as they voted for the new pope.
During the conclave I realized that I was somewhat well acquainted with four of the electors, who had been schoolmates of mine in Rome. From 1955 to 1961 I did my seminary work in Rome, was ordained a priest there, and received two doctorates in theology. During those years I lived at the North American College, the seminary for students from dioceses in the United States, and later at the graduate house of the college for priests studying for advanced degrees. In those days I was well acquainted with the future cardinals but of course knew some better than others. With one of them I traveled extensively; we attended the Passion Play at Oberammergau in 1960 and visited the Holy Land together in 1961.
Our paths diverged in later years. We all had advanced degrees, but I made the academy my home, while the others became involved in church administration. My writings and life as a Catholic moral theologian have made some modest contribution to the theology and life of the Catholic Church. I have served as president of three national academic societies— the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE), and the American Theological Society (ATS). In addition, I have received the highest awards from both the CTSA and the College Theology Society (CTS) for outstanding contributions to theology.
I have written more than fifty books in the area of moral theology.1 But I think I know my weaknesses and limitations in terms of whatever contributions I may have made.
I had even greater differences with the four future cardinals I knew while studying in Rome. In 1967 a strike at the Catholic University of America (CUA) succeeded in overturning the decision of the board of trustees not to renew my contract. All the archbishops in the United States, together with other bishops and a few laypeople, were members of the board at CUA. In 1968 I acted as the spokesperson for a group of Catholic scholars, ultimately numbering more than 600, who publicly recognized that one could disagree in theory and in practice with Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which condemned artificial contraception, and still be a loyal Roman Catholic.
After Josef Ratzinger’s election as pope, I realized that my disagreement with these former schoolmates went deeper than I had supposed. They were probably quite pleased with the election of the new pope. I was not. In 1986, after a seven-year investigation and a personal meeting at the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger, in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and with the approval of the pope, declared that I was neither suitable nor eligible to be a Catholic theologian. Now Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI.
Despite my differences with Josef Ratzinger and with the cardinal electors who had been my schoolmates in Rome, we share a common calling to the priesthood. Even more important, I share with them a strong commitment to the Catholic Church, despite what I consider its many shortcomings. When Commonweal, the lay-edited Catholic journal, asked me to do an article on my reaction to the new pope, I pointed out my major theological differences with Ratzinger and insisted on the need for a number of important reforms in the church today. I concluded, ‘‘As a Catholic Christian, I respect and love the office of the Bishop of Rome. I respect and love Pope Benedict XVI as he tries to carry out his most difficult of- fice. Like all Catholics, I pray daily for the wisdom that he needs. But, while conscious of my own shortcomings, I will continue to offer what I believe are constructive criticisms for the good of the pilgrim church.’’
Friends have urged me for years to write my memoirs. I began this project a year before the election of Pope Benedict XVI, but not without some hesitation. Some parts of the story have already appeared in print. I am not the most scintillating of writers, having spent my life writing primarily for an academic audience. Nor have I kept a diary or careful records, so I will have to rely heavily, at times, on memory, which as we all know can play tricks. There is a further problem. Memoirs tend to be very self-oriented. In all honesty, I am aware that my story is only a small part of a much bigger one. I am also very conscious of how much I have depended on others and their help along the way. Can I tell the story without succumbing to the danger of overemphasizing my own role and function? Caveat lector.
This book will try to explain how the church and moral theology have changed in the past fifty years and how I matured from an uncritical, dutiful, pre-Vatican II Catholic into a loyal dissenter who remains a committed Catholic.
Copyright © 2006 by Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials in this PDF File are copyrighted by Georgetown University Press. Distribution, posting, or copying is strictly prohibited without written permission of Georgetown University Press.
What People are Saying About This
Science & Spirit
"Charles Curran's memoir is a perfect expression of who he is: a mature, well-balanced person, without a trace of self-importance or rancor, a deeply committed Christian, and a first-rate, exceedingly productive Catholic theologian. This book deserves a wide readership not limited to theologians and students of theology. It will be of particular value for those seeking to understand more about the Christian moral life and the tensions and complexities of post-Vatican II Catholicism."
Richard P. McBrien, Crowley-O'Brien Professor, University of Notre Dame
"Engrossing, enlightening, salted with humor, poignant, and profoundly inspiring, this memoir recounts the journey of one of the leading theologians of the Catholic Church in this country. Curran has been at the center of historic events. His own account of things, especially the gracious charity with which he views opponents, is stunning. His stories of personal, intellectual, and spiritual choices are linked, quite unselfconsciously, with the mantra 'for truth and for the good of the church.' To borrow the title of a best-selling book, this is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius—not just human talent, but the genius of a faith-filled life. A powerful read for anyone who is active in the church today."
Elizabeth A. Johnson, C. S. J., Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University
"In this memoir, the reader discovers the intellect of a scholar, the clarity of a teacher, and the heart of a pastor. With the realistic sense of history, saving sense of humor, acute intelligence, and love of the Church for which he is known, Charles Curran gives witness to the meaning and cost of being called to a stance of 'faithful dissent.' His commitment to Christian discipleship and to his vocation as a Catholic theologian and priest remains an inspiration for the Church in the 21st century."
Mary Catherine Hilkert, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
"In his clear, direct style, Curran tells the story of his struggle with the Vatican over the legitimacy of dissent in the Catholic Church and with the Catholic University of America over academic freedom. His exploration of this history and the developments in theology since offers wisdom, understanding, and hope to those who struggle with their church and their own faith. It is a book for every thoughtful Christian, not just for theologians."
Sheila Daley, codirector and cofounder, Call To Action
Meet the Author
Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, is Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University. He was the first recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for Theology and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the American Theological Society. In 2003, Curran received the Presidential Award of the College Theology Society for a lifetime of scholarly achievements in moral theology, and in 2005, Call to Action—a reform movement of 25,000 Catholics—presented him with its leadership award. He is the author of The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II and Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present, both published by Georgetown University Press.
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