Cleansing Fire

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“Banned by the Pope”

October 25th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

Four months ago Newsweek published a self-serving piece submitted by Fr. Charles Curran.  The full article is available here, but I believe the following is a fair summary of his main points:

  • For nearly 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been wrong about artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage without annulment, homosexual sex, priestesses and clerical celibacy, to name but a few of the more important items.
  • I did my best to show the Church where and how it had gone off the rails.
  • The people running the Church, especially then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, would not listen to me.
  • That is why the Church is in such a mess today and why so many people are now former Catholics.
  • And, by the way, “I remain a committed Catholic, a priest in good standing, and a professor of Catholic theology (albeit at a Methodist institution).”

I first came across this article in mid-August and decided to give it a pass, as I had just finished publishing three posts on Fr. Curran (see here, here and here).  The article struck me as nothing new, just one more lame attempt by an aging progressive to justify a life of dissent.

E. Christian Brugger at the Culture of Life Foundation had a different reaction to the Newsweek article. In an article published on his organization’s web site, Dr. Brugger dissects Fr. Curran’s self-serving rhetoric and gives a far more balanced account of 10 years’ worth of dialog that preceded Fr. Curran’s ousting from the Catholic University of America. He then goes on to describe what really got Fr. Curran in trouble with the Vatican.

In the Newsweek piece, Curran describes benignly the actions that got him into trouble: “I … pointed out areas where I believed Catholicism and modern life were misaligned.” He did more than point out. He also adopted the conclusions of modern culture against the teachings of the Magisterium. But neither of these got him into trouble. The lynchpin was that he publicized his views; and then, in the face of formal correction, he remained intransigent. He mobilized public opposition against the hierarchy of the Church after the fashion of a political protest in an effort to pressure the Church to change its teaching (he says resignedly in his piece: “We have been unable to persuade the church to make changes”). The fact that he had the support of the liberal media, many members of the Catholic theological community, and even some progressive bishops, made the Vatican’s investigation appear like the futile inquisition of a dying monarchy. And his supporters took every opportunity to make it appear as such. But Cardinal Ratzinger (with John Paul II’s authority) was doing no more than fulfilling his job description: defending the doctrine of the faith.

And just what were the fruits of Fr. Curran’s stubborn dissent?

There are more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, the largest network in the world and the greatest concentrated number in human history. These views and the others for which Fr. Curran was removed from CUA are now the common opinions of a solid majority of theologians (as well as administrators) employed at those institutions. Young men and women attend freshman seminars in religion and hear how Catholicism and modern life are misaligned; how Fr. Curran and his generation of likeminded theologians are the heroes of yesteryear; and how the church now ‘needs’ them to coax it—if necessary, drag it—into line with modern morality.

So, then, all is lost?  Hardly.

And yet, despite the loss of ecclesial identity of many mainline institutions, Catholic higher education is not growing more secular. It’s moving slowly in the direction of renewal. In the last forty years a dozen or so new Catholic colleges and universities have been founded with an explicitly Catholic academic mission (e.g., Ave Maria University, Christendom College, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Magdalen College, Southern Catholic College, Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More College [N.H], College of Thomas More [Fort Worth], Wyoming Catholic College); and other older schools have been renewed along Catholic lines (e.g., Belmont Abbey, Benedictine, Franciscan University, Providence College, St. Gregory’s [Oklahoma], University of Dallas, University of St. Thomas [Houston]). Even mainline institutions are waking up to the Catholic voice, as illustrated in the outcry against the 2009 Notre Dame commencement scandal.

Ironically, despite deepening secularization in society, Catholic higher ed. is in better shape today than it was 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. Why is that? Because the Catholic Church, slow as she is to act, has rendered an unfavorable judgment on the academic/moral value system shared by the Fr. Currans of the world. Those interested in genuine renewal of Catholic higher education are following John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae and Benedict XVI’s 2008 Address to Catholic Educators. These have set the direction for the next century. Catholic Church watchers will take note. As usual, Newsweek is behind the curve.

Dr. Brugger’s full article is here.

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3 Responses to ““Banned by the Pope””

  1. avatar Dr. K says:

    Fr. Spilly raved about Fr. Curran a few weeks ago:

    On to Fr. Cuarran’s article…

    Despite that rebuke, I remain a committed Catholic, a priest in good standing

    Does not mean the Church approves his dissent, but rather Bishop Clark gives approval.

    Today, about a third of people who were raised Catholic have left the church

    Doesn’t he realize that it’s people like himself who have distorted the Faith who are the culprits responsible for this mass exodus?

    The vow of priestly celibacy

    This so-called theologian doesn’t understand that it’s a “promise,” not a “vow.” It hurts his argument when he doesn’t even use the right terminology.

    Lifting the ban might help address the pedophilia crisis—which, at least in the popular mind, was caused in part by the frustrations of celibacy.

    We’ve done so many posts on this. Why do teachers abuse children? Why do Protestant ministers like the one in Henrietta abuse children? Why do Boy Scout leaders abuse children? It’s not celibacy; it’s pedophiles coming into contact with youth.

    Between 1975 and today, the number of Catholic priests in the United States has slid from nearly 60,000 to about 40,000.

    Ever read Goodbye Good Men? Several factors are at play- modernism, bishops rejecting good candidates, bishops advancing bad candidates, poor catechesis, rampant dissent from priests and deacons, devaluation of the priesthood, etc.

    Protestant churches, which allow their minsters to have families, have suffered no such struggles. I can only conclude that celibacy laws are to blame.

    I don’t for a second buy that Protestant congregations are booming with clergy. See above comment for the “I can only conclude…” part.

    while others remain open but no longer offer the eucharistic liturgy

    A Communion service is a “Eucharistic” liturgy. I believe he means “Mass.” So many progressives avoid saying the word Mass like it’s the F-word.

    changing the laws that forbid male clergy from marrying will do nothing to speed women’s path to the priesthood. We should treat rewriting the celibacy laws as an initial edit—a change on the way to redressing the multitude of other needed reforms.

    The ordination of men alone isn’t just law but part of the deposit of faith. It is a definitive teaching to be held by all. This isn’t some piece of legislation that the Pope, acting like the President of the United States, can veto at any time.

  2. avatar Scott W. says:

    The ordination of men alone isn’t just law but part of the deposit of faith. It is a definitive teaching to be held by all. This isn’t some piece of legislation that the Pope, acting like the President of the United States, can veto at any time.

    Yep. The “It’s canon law, not doctrine” canard seems to be a common talking point among the gainsayers. It’s pretty desperate. The worst I read was an Amazon customer review of a book defending the male priest hood. He said he fully accepted the Church’s teaching that only males could be priests, but guess what? The Church hasn’t formally defined what “maleness” is. The mind boggles.

  3. avatar Dr. K says:

    The Church hasn’t formally defined what “maleness” is. The mind boggles.

    I have heard that excuse too. Perhaps it was the same person?


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