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April 21, 2005

Didn’t Ratzinger Silence Him?

One of the many “crimes” for which Pope Benedict XVI is often chastised is the “silencing” of heterodox theologians. In reality, all that actually happened was that their licenses to call themselves Catholic theologians were revoked. Want proof? Here is one of the silenced theologians, Father Charles Curran, offering his critique of the new pope's election and the continued push for Catholic orthodoxy, from his tenure-secured job teaching at Southern Methodist University.

I grew up as a typical pre-Vatican II Catholic. I entered the seminary at 13 and became a priest 11 years later, never questioning church teachings. But as a moral theologian in the 1960s, I began to see things differently, ultimately concluding that Catholics, although they must hold on to the core doctrines of faith, can and at times should dissent from the more peripheral teachings of the church.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Catholic Church feel differently. In the summer of 1986, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the powerful enforcer of doctrinal orthodoxy around the world, concluded a seven-year investigation of my writings. Pope John Paul II approved the finding that "one who dissents from the magisterium as you do is not suitable nor eligible to teach Catholic theology." Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — told the Catholic University of America to revoke my license to teach theology because of my "repeated refusal to accept what the church teaches."

I was fired. It was the first time an American Catholic theologian had been censured in this way. At issue was my dissent from church teachings on "the indissolubility of consummated sacramental marriage, abortion, euthanasia, masturbation, artificial contraception, premarital intercourse and homosexual acts," according to their final document to me. It's true that I questioned the idea that such acts are always immoral and never acceptable (although I thought my dissent on these issues was quite nuanced).

Unfortunately, the Vatican — which was already moving toward greater discipline and orthodoxy — was having none of it. Seven years earlier, it had punished the Swiss theologian Hans Küng because of his teachings on infallibility in the church. Later, Cardinal Ratzinger "silenced" Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff, an advocate of liberation theology, for a year. Just recently, Ratzinger said U.S. Jesuit Roger Haight could not teach Catholic theology until he changed his understanding of the role of Jesus Christ.

Gee, imagine that. If you are teaching things that run directly contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, you can’t run around calling it Catholic theology. One would have hoped, of course, that fundamental decency and a sense of honesty would have prevented folks like Curran from making such claims. It didn’t, and so Catholic authorities acted to clarify the situation for the world – you cannot use the forum of a Catholic college or university to put forth ideas that diverge from Catholic truth while claiming that they represent authentic Church teachings.

Curran, of course, is distressed by the advent of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. The result is a call for the rejection of the teachings of the Church. If one is looking for evidence in support of the actions taken against him two decades ago, one need look no further than his continued rejection of those teachings and his attempt to undermine them in the minds of others.





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