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Who’s Teaching the Bishops?

On February 12, the moral theologian Richard A. McCormick, S.J., died. His long-time collaborator, Fr. Charles E. Curran, paid tribute to him in the National Catholic Reporter (March 3). Curran notes in passing that McCormick “was convinced that public dissent from noninfallible church teaching was at times justified and necessary” (on this point, see James Hitchcock’s “McNuggets From McCormick” in the Nov. 1998 NOR), and that McCormick “disagreed with hierarchical and papal Catholic teaching on issues such as contraception, sterilization, divorce, homosexuality and the principle of double effect.” Says Curran bluntly, “Yes, McCormick dissented….”

You’d think that all bishops would have kept their distance from McCormick. But no!

In a letter to America (March 4), the Archbishop of Anchorage, Francis T. Hurley, extols McCormick as “a master at blending common sense and theological profundity….”

And in a letter to America (March 11), the Bishop-Emeritus of Santa Rosa, Calif., Mark J. Hurley, says that McCormick was “a brilliant star” who “illuminated the galaxy of moral theology in the 20th-century United States as no other,” adding that McCormick’s “willingness publicly to tackle the vexatious moral problems of the post-Vatican II era” is “testimony to his fidelity to the church….” (Dissent is fidelity?) Then Hurley spills the beans: “Many a bishop, including some cardinals, relied upon his judgments and advice. They copied his words for their letters and encyclicals….”

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