Fr. Charles Curran, arguably the most influential U.S. moral theologian for the last 45 years, is easing back from full-time teaching, but he will continue to teach part time in Dallas, Texas, at Southern Methodist University, where he has been a tenured professor since 1991. And he will continue to write.
A profile of Curran in United Methodist News is headlined “SMU became refuge for Charles Curran, professor-priest,” because it is the school that hired and kept him in after he was fired from the Catholic University of America. Despite strong support from faculty groups, past and current students and the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith withdrew Curran’s license to teach Catholic theology in 1986.
From the 1960s, Curran had questioned church teaching on artificial contraception. In the 1970s, he argued for the moral legitimacy of same-sex unions. He challenged the church to allow for the legitimacy of divorce and remarriage in some cases. While supporting the church’s opposition to abortion, he would write that faithful Catholics could, taking all things into consideration, oppose a constitutional amendment repealing Roe vs. Wade.
“To more liberal Catholics, I was a saint, to more conservative Catholics, the devil,” Curran wrote in Loyal Dissent, his 2006 memoir. “The reality seems to me to fall somewhere between the two extremes, but my symbolic role created quite a bit of controversy in those days.”
The Rev. William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and a historian of American religion, “Charlie Curran is not a footnote in the history of American religion; he’s in the body of the main text of any writing anybody might do on important figures in American religious life.”
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According to United Methodist News Curran, 80, “reports no health problems, but acknowledges having less energy and concentration. That led to his decision to pull back from fulltime faculty work.”
He plans to keep teaching at every other semester at SMU and is still writing.
Curran served on the NCR board of directors from 2002 to 2009.