Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Frs. Curran and Martin: 2 Priests in a Pod

February 1st, 2019, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Charles E. Curran was born on March 30, 1934.  Biographical data report that he grew up in Rochester, NY, but where he was born is less clear. He came to prominence during Vatican II, not quite 30 years of age, and only a few years past his 1958 ordination in the Rochester Diocese, where he is still carried in the directory of priests!  He returned to Rome to study, ironically, “moral theology” at the Pontifical Gregorian University where he earned an STL and an STD in 1959 and 1960, respectively, and a second doctorate at the pontifical Alphonsian Academy in 1961.

My Presbyterian Greek professor once explained why so much Christian teaching seems to go off the tracks in the dissertations and theses accepted for advanced degrees.  There are basically only two ways to expound on the subject matter – deeply in faith and prayer like a Thomas Aquinas for the honor and glory of God, or appealing to faulty human logic and argument for the prestige of the clever and compromised ego. There would seem to be little doubt as to the path Curran took.

Charles E. Curran

Curran returned from the headiness of Rome to the Rochester Diocese, appointed to teach at St. Bernard’s Seminary. One might reasonably assume that virtually every priest studying at the seminary during that period was almost inevitably affected, even infected, by the amorality and immorality of those teachings. Less visible, and less reported in the bios, was Curran’s presence from time to time in the early ‘60’s, at the Catholic University of America, nibbling around the edges of the integrity of religious studies, fueled by speculation and commentary on every twitch of Vatican II.

Curran’s stint at Rochester’s St. Bernard’s Seminary seems to have been almost a cover, in my opinion, or at least a preparative short run, for his rapid infiltration of the staff at Catholic University, e.g. showing up to spell a religious instructor in a classroom for a course such as “Selected Moral Questions,” or other impromptu witnessing to his own opinions across the campus. He drew to himself a cadre of students, also intoxicated with the idea of turning Church Teaching upside-down, rejecting the value that had gone before. Curran was in the right place at the right time, with students hanging on his every word that argued for loosening the sexual moral norms in particular; i.e. a kind of “Liberation of the Body Theology.”  In 1965, Curran officially joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, the one university which supposedly answered to the Bishops of the U.S. but was greatly influenced by increased or decreased student enrollment and mood, and media sniping.  Because of the expectations of such episcopal “leadership” at CUA, the university doubtless had more impact than would certain events at other Catholic universities. A failure at the top is a failure indeed.

Although Curran had no role in the work of the Council, (a Charles A. Curran did), he gained attention and notoriety for his willingness to express his opinions in the popular press during the Council, to laud his theological persuasiveness over the heads of folks in the pew, and to trumpet his support for a lifestyle of permissive sexuality, engaging especially those about to embark on their life path, all to the delight of some Catholics who were just waking up to the possibility of the “freedom” of the pill. He would eventually even lay some groundwork for the lack of Catholic opposition which enabled the Roe vs. Wade decision less than a decade later, in 1973.

One might understand how a priest, highly educated in the academic aspects of the faith, would have some point in theology which would be especially difficult for him to understand, to teach, to abide. Perhaps even a point on which his faithfulness is being tested. But when one reads the list of the many disagreements Curran had with traditional Catholic Teaching, one has to question both his sincerity, and from whence came his real mission.

Wikipedia describes how Curran ran afoul of the inherent values of Catholic University: 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. 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 also promoted him to associate professor with tenure. Curran then returned to prominence. In 1968 he was part of the group of 87 theologians that authored a [dissident] response to Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical affirming the traditional ban on artificial contraception. Curran continued to teach and write … on various moral issues, including premarital sex, masturbation, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, divorce, and euthanasia, and in vitro fertilization, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.”  [Today it almost seems that Curran could have had a later career as private tutor to Andrew Cuomo.]

The failure of the U.S. Bishops to crush the head of the “Academic Freedom” serpent has inevitably led to a plethora of contemporary outrages polluting many so-called Catholic campuses, from LGBT activist speakers to dispensing the abortion pill. And, perhaps, even more than distorting specific teachings, “Just call me ‘Charlie’” Curran’s real role was to weaken the commitment to truth and cogent thought. Twenty years later, in 1986, after “academic freedom” had deeply implanted itself as if it were a legitimate counterpoint to theology, Curran was terminated by Catholic University. Certainly he paved the way for his successor-dissembler today, James Martin, S.J., and stimulated a widening of the heretical floodwaters.

Wikipedia further reports:     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.” …  In 1992, … 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. 

In 1986, the Vatican declared that Curran could no longer teach theology at the Catholic University of America schools, and he was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology. Curran sued the University for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract and lost. Although a tenured professor (Curran retained his tenure status, but his ecclesiastical mission to teach Catholic theology was revoked), 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 …. The areas of dispute included publishing articles that debated theological and ethical views regarding divorce …. [obviously before Amoris Laetitia was published!]

“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….  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.”

Thank you, Cardinal Ratzinger, for having the courage to do what the leadership of CUA had failed to do nearly 20 years earlier.  It is not the intent here to provide a history of a very complex situation, which is covered well in a variety of writings; rather, it is simply to show how Charles E. Curran provided the launch pad for emergence of a James Martin figure.


James Martin, SJ

James Martin was born December 29, 1960, as Curran was loading up with doctorates in Rome to bring to the faculty of St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, NY, less than 20 years before its being turned into senior citizen housing.  Martin came to a significantly later ordination in life than Curran; he was ordained in 1999, at 39 years old, after a short experience at lower levels in the business world (GE). Like Curran, Martin also pumped out books, but in more of a ‘lite’ fare than as theological teaching or argument, first disarming readers with the saints in the sock drawer saga.

Martin was a long way from theology but, after so many years of the “academic freedom” head-start, the lettered degrees were probably less necessary, less awe-inspiring. Martin seems to have sought the media attention much like Curran, but more in video (and its evolution) than from alleged expertise as a “moral theologian!”  Martin builds, however, where Curran had left off, as a crusader for homosexual activism. He entered the Jesuits a year after Curran lost his termination case from Catholic University. Apparently, no longer was the key academic post essential to attacking doctrine.

Just as Curran leveraged the Vatican II stage for his comments, Martin has assiduously captured the endorsement of Pope Francis. The aim is the same – to find some stature from which to push for widespread acceptance of the relaxation, even destruction, of sexual mores. Curran’s approach was based on academic argument during and after a Church Council; Martin’s on the aura of a pope and in a  same-sex environment free-for-all. But both audiences seem to share the desire for dissipated norms.  Whereas Curran’s education and argument draws erroneously from the well-springs of theology, Martin has less need for such intellectual regalia and exercise, standing on the Curran platform already erected. For Martin, like Curran in his media contacts, it is still all about his own experiences, opinions and sound bites. It is still about converting souls away from traditional Catholic Teaching. It is still about the loss of souls, and answering to a Righteous God.

Curran survived as long as he did before being ousted from Catholic University faculty at age 52, due to his academic credentials, whereas  Martin  in his 50’s is mostly a conglomeration of honorary degrees from colleges or universities where he gives a speech to the graduates and their families, a less sophisticated audience in many ways. As a Jesuit, Martin has had the protection of their America Magazine, which he edits, with little demand for an aura of sound intellectual argument. He enjoys enough protection from association with Pope Francis and the Jesuits. The schools with which he has been associated are well beneath the ones on Curran’s ladder. In tight arguments, Martin seems to simply reach, not for the reference book on the shelf, but for the Socialist creed when pressed about Catholic Teaching.

Areas of difference between Curran and Martin fade away when one sees how they fit together.  When the principle of dissent wins the day as a test of academic freedom, and when academic freedom replaces Faith, it is easy to leverage the master strategy of Curran to accommodate the subplot of Martin and others. When people become conditioned to not needing even sound thought and truth from academia, it is a short step to not requiring truth at all.

So “Call-me-Jim” Martin picks up where “Call-me-Charlie” Curran left off, in a weakened world, pre-conditioned for more of the same.  Unfortunately, the definition of ‘abuse’ has not yet evolved to be recognized as including the warping of young minds, injuring souls in their faith, and manipulating the culture for generations to come.  And theologians still teach without wearing ‘warning labels.”


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2 Responses to “Frs. Curran and Martin: 2 Priests in a Pod”

  1. Diane Harris says:

    Comments were inadvertently ‘turned off.’

  2. Diane Harris says:

    …and now have been turned back on. We apologize for the inconvenience.

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