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The Rev. Charles E. Curran (born March 30, 1934) is a moral theologian. He currently serves at Southern Methodist Universitymarker in Dallasmarker, Texasmarker, as the Elizabeth Scurlock Professor of Human Values.


Charles Curran was ordained in Romemarker in 1958 for the Diocese of Rochester, New Yorkmarker. As a young priest, he was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council. Curran was previously removed from his tenured faculty position at Catholic University of Americamarker (CUA) in 1967 for his views on birth control, but was reinstated after a five-day faculty-led strike.Curran then returned to prominence, however, in 1968 when he, along with a group of some 600 theologians, 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 in various moral issues, including premarital sex, masturbation, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, divorce, euthanasia, and in vitro fertilization throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Curran was removed from the faculty of Catholic University of Americamarker in 1986 as a dissident who unapologetically maintained the right to dissent from official Church teachings which had not been issued as ex cathedra statements. 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.

In 1986, the Vatican declared that although a tenured professor, Curran could no longer teach theology at 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 Josef Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], that Curran was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology." The areas of dispute included publishing articles that debated theological and ethical views regarding divorce, "artificial contraception", "masturbation, pre-marital intercourse and homosexual acts."

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." 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.

While the controversy was unfolding, Curran taught as a visiting professor at Cornell Universitymarker. Since then, Curran has taken a full tenured professorship at Southern Methodist Universitymarker and has published personal accounts about his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and his viewpoint on the actions of Roman Catholic Church authorities. Although Curran has been deemed, by the Vatican, unfit to teach Catholic theology, a recent 2008 survey showed that a plurality of SMU students are Catholics, surmounting Methodists by about 2,000 respondents. Curran is a major financial benefactor of SMU's Catholic organization. , CUA remains on the list of AAUP censured institutions.

He has remained a controversial figure. His invitation to speak at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth in 2006, was controversial, with College President, Mgr. Dermot Farrell forced to deny any involvement, though without actually preventing his speaking.


Selected publications

  • 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.

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.

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