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Charles E. Curran (born March 30, 1934) is a Roman Catholic priest and moral theologian. He currently serves at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, as the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values.
Curran grew up in Rochester, New York and was ordained there in 1958 for the Diocese of Rochester. After intensive graduate work and earning two doctorates in theology in Rome, Curran taught at the seminary in Rochester, New York until, in 1965, he joined the theology faculty at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Contrary to some sources, he did not serve as a peritus or expert at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). That distinction belonged to Charles A. Curran, a member of the psychology department at Loyola University in Chicago. 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. However, 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 promoted him to associate professor with tenure. Curran then returned to prominence. However, in 1968 along with a group of some 600 theologians, he 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 on various moral issues, including premarital sex, masturbation, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, divorce, euthanasia, and in vitro fertilization, throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Curran was again removed from the faculty of the Catholic University of America in 1986 as a dissident against the Catholic Church's moral teaching. 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.
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." However, he has since recognized shortcomings in this argument,:73 and in 1992, though without explicitly stating a change of position, 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. Curran has stated that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith systematically attempted to silence authors critical of teachings on homosexuality, citing the "highlighting" of errors in Dr. John J. McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual.:113
In 1986, the Vatican declared that although a tenured professor, Curran could no longer teach theology at the 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 Joseph Ratzinger [later 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 University and Auburn University. Since then, Curran has taken a full tenured professorship at Southern Methodist University and has published personal accounts about his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and his viewpoint on the actions of Roman Catholic Church authorities. Since he refuses to teach what the Catholic Church teaches, Curran has been deemed, by the Vatican, unfit to teach Catholic theology. While he cannot assert that what he teaches is Catholic teaching, he remains free, of course, to teach non-Catholic theology as he has done. Curran is a major financial benefactor of SMU's Catholic organization. As of August 2009[update], 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, County Kildare, Ireland in 2006, was controversial, the with college president, Mgr. Dermot Farrell, denying any involvement without actually preventing him speaking.
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.