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Charles Curran (theologian)

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Charles Curran (theologian)

Charles E. Curran (born March 30, 1934) is a Roman Catholic priest and moral theologian. He currently serves at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, as the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values.


  • Biography 1
  • Education 2
  • Selected publications 3
  • External links 4
  • References 5


Curran grew up in Rochester, New York and was ordained there in 1958 for the Diocese of Rochester. After intensive graduate work and earning two doctorates in theology in Rome, Curran taught at the seminary in Rochester, New York until, in 1965, he joined the theology faculty at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Contrary to some sources, he did not serve as a peritus or expert at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). That distinction belonged to Charles A. Curran, a member of the psychology department at Loyola University in Chicago.[1] In April 1967, university trustees voted to let Fr. Charles E. Curran's tenure stream appointment lapse rather than reappoint him, primarily because of his dissenting views on contraception. However, after a faculty led strike that included students, the university reversed its position on Curran two weeks later and the trustees not only reappointed him but promoted him to associate professor with tenure.[2][3] Curran then returned to prominence. However, in 1968 along with a group of some 600 theologians, he authored a response to Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical affirming the traditional ban on artificial contraception. Curran continued to teach and write on the church's teaching on various moral issues, including premarital sex, masturbation, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, divorce, euthanasia, and in vitro fertilization, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Curran was again removed from the faculty of the Catholic University of America in 1986 as a dissident against the Catholic Church's moral teaching. He maintains in his 1986 Faithful Dissent that Catholics who may dissent nevertheless accept the teaching authority of the Pope, bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Curran contended in 1971 that homosexual acts, in the context of a committed relationship, fell short of the ideal but were to be considered good for homosexual people; he stated that "I had come to accept the moral legitimacy of a union of two gay men or lesbians." However, he has since recognized shortcomings in this argument,[4]:73 and in 1992, though without explicitly stating a change of position, he said that "the official hierarchical Roman Catholic teaching should accept the moral value and goodness" of same-sex relationships, not excepting those that include sex.[5] Curran has stated that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith systematically attempted to silence authors critical of teachings on homosexuality, citing the "highlighting" of errors in Dr. John J. McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual.[4]:113[6]

In 1986, the Vatican declared that although a tenured professor, Curran could no longer teach theology at the Catholic University of America schools, because "clashes with Church authorities finally culminated in a decision by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [later Pope Benedict XVI], that Curran was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology."[7] The areas of dispute included publishing articles that debated theological and ethical views regarding divorce, "artificial contraception", "masturbation, pre-marital intercourse and homosexual acts."[8]

As noted in an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report, "Had it not been for the intervention of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Professor Curran would undoubtedly still be active in the [Catholic University's] Department of Theology, a popular teacher, honored theologian, and respected colleague."[9] Curran's attorneys argued that CUA did not follow proper procedures or its own policy statements in handling the case. In essence, CUA claimed that the Vatican's actions against Curran trumped any campus-based policy or tenure rules.

In 1989, he filed suit against Catholic University, and the court determined that the university had the right to fire him for teaching views in contradiction to the school's religion.[10]

While the controversy was unfolding, Curran taught as a visiting professor at

  1. ^ Francois Weiser, "The Periti of the United States and the Second Vatican Council, Prosopography of a Group of Theologians", U.S. Catholic Historian, 30 (Summer 2012), 89
  2. ^ Samuel J. Thomas, "A Final Disposition...One Way Or Another: The Real End of the First Curran Affair", The Catholic Historical Review ,XCI (October 2005), 717-72.
  3. ^ An Urge to Retire Time Magazine July 21, 1967.
  4. ^ a b Charles E. Curran (May 2006). Loyal dissent. Georgetown University Press.  
  5. ^ Charles E. Curran; Timothy E. O'Connell; Thomas Anthony Shannon (December 2002). A call to fidelity. Georgetown University Press. p. 24.  
  6. ^ Charles E. Curran (April 1999). The Catholic moral tradition today. Georgetown University Press. p. 212.  
  7. ^ Loyal Dissent Memoir of a Catholic Theologian
  8. ^ quoting Cardinal Ratzinger. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  9. ^ a b "Academic Freedom and Tenure" (PDF). Academe. Sep–Oct 1989. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  10. ^ Curran Loses Suit Against Catholic U.; Theology Professor's Dismissal Upheld


  • Curran's SMU website
  • Whispers in the Loggia: In Big D, SMU Swims the Tiber

External links

For a complete bibliography of Curran, see Thomas W. O'Brien, "Bibliography of Charles E. Curran 1961-90: Thirty Years of Catholic Moral Theology," Horizons 18 (1991): 263-78, and O'Brien, "Bibliography of Charles E. Curran, 1990-2000: Another Decade of Catholic Moral Theology," Horizons 28 (2001): 307-13.

  • Loyal Dissent: Memoirs of a Catholic Theologian (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2006)
  • The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2005)
  • Catholic Social Teaching 1891–Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2002)
  • The Catholic Moral Tradition Today: A Synthesis (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1999)
  • Moral Theology at the End of the Century (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1999)
  • The Origins of Moral Theology in the United States: Three Different Approaches (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1997)
  • co-editor of the twelve-volume series from Paulist Press: Readings in Moral Theology.

Selected publications


He has remained a controversial figure. His invitation to speak at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland in 2006, was controversial, with the college president, Mgr. Dermot Farrell, denying any involvement without actually preventing him speaking.


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