THE MEMOIRS OF CHARLES CURRAN
A Legacy of Dissent

September 2008By Daniel B. Gallagher

The Rev. Daniel B. Gallagher, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, is currently studying philosophy at the Gregorian University of Rome.

I was born four months after Woodstock and four months before Kent State. I've begun to realize how these events framed the times into which I was born and out of which I was raised. In less than a year, the chimerical quest for peace and love on a dairy farm in upstate New York was shattered by a barrage of bullets on the dazed campus of a Midwestern university. It was a time of great chaos in American culture.

While thousands wallowed in the mud and music on Yasgur's farm, Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle, archbishop of Washington, D.C., was preparing to impose canonical penalties on 40 of his priests who claimed they were unable to uphold the teaching of Humanae Vitae in good conscience. While the Ohio National Guard and student protestors battled in the streets of Kent, Fr. Charles Curran, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, was working out a theory in which he would purport that "homosexual actions between committed partners are in a true sense objectively good but still not on a par with heterosexual relationships." It was indeed a time of great chaos in the American Church.

As a so-called Generation X priest, I have felt a strong desire to make sense out of that chaos — both in American culture and in the American Church. I yearn to know what was underlying the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll at my school, as well as the Wonder Bread Masses and sex-ed classes at my parish. The more I try to sort through all of it, the more it seems to be one big mixed-up whole.

I have tried to remain fair in my quest. Shortly after I was ordained, a brother priest who had just marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination offered me several of his seminary textbooks to borrow and peruse. Among them were Fr. Curran's Contemporary Problems in Moral Theology and Ongoing Revision in Moral Theology. Though I studied philosophy at Catholic University, where Fr. Curran had taught for 22 years before his final dismissal in 1987, and though I was vaguely familiar with the turmoil that surrounded him throughout those years, I had never read any of his books. I couldn't have been more appalled. I tried to remain objective as I considered his arguments, but the further I read, the more I wondered how I would have turned out if these books had been assigned to me as moral theology manuals during my priestly training. Eager to talk with the priest who had lent me the books about what it must have been like for him, I called him — only to discover that he had been dismissed from the clerical state on charges of sexual abuse and had checked himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation program. Coincidence? Perhaps. But once more, I couldn't help thinking that it was all one big mixed-up whole.


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Back to September 2008 Issue

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In my quest to determine if my university was teaching according to the magesterium, I was puzzled by this need for constraint "I sympathize with Fr. Curran's solicitude for the academy's legitimate autonomy in pursuing higher theological research without undue constraint." I was puzzled by the thought that in the pursuit of truth, the magisterium would be a constraint. Nevertheless, it becomes difficult for a parent to determine if a university is teaching according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I also found "compromise" in Fr Currans work an interesting word.
I'm glad the author seemed to find the "...one big beautiful whole." but in the meantime, this country's moral compass is in the process of being destroyed. Amid the leaders in this quest for secular progressiveness are many senators and congressmen that claim to be Catholic but yet are destroying the very principles taught by the Catholic Church. Having been on this earth for over 70 years, I have not seen anything that suggests that the principles of truth in Catholic Teaching taught 60 years (or more) ago are no longer correct. The Bishops have a significant challenge before them to correct those that are misinformed. I hope they do so before this country implodes in immorality.
Posted by: awunsch
September 23, 2008 05:20 PM EDT
Thank God for the Cardinal Newman Society and their 'Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College'. Posted by: rad314
October 06, 2008 07:17 AM EDT
Bveritas, you have summed it up nicely.
Thank you.
Posted by: Carlpike
July 08, 2013 05:01 PM EDT
What Curran has never understood is self-evident to anyone exercising minimal honesty, and that is the dishonest tendencies all human minds exercise in trying to deny the reality of personal sin in their lives and how these denials can affect their preferred moral belief system. Posted by: bveritas
July 08, 2013 02:21 PM EDT
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