The following is the text of a statement drafted and approved by various past presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theology Society:
On Sept. 17, 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informed Father Charles E. Curran, Professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., that unless Father Curran retracted certain views on various official teachings of the Catholic Church, Father Curran would not be allowed to continue teaching Catholic theology in the name of the Church.
The areas of dissent explicitly mentioned in Cardinal Ratzinger's letter concerned contraception, direct sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, masturbation, pre-marital intercourse, homosexual acts, and the indissolubility of sacramental and consummated marriage.
The letter did not specify how Father Curran's writings are at variance with these official teachings, nor does the letter make any claim that any of these teachings fulfill the conditions necessary for an infallible pronouncement. The letter makes clear, nonetheless, that Father Curran's positions "violate the conditions necessary for a professor to be called a Catholic theologian."
The underlying assumption of the letter, therefore, is that dissent from noninfallible teachings effectively places one outside the body of Catholic theologians.
Because many of us are not specialists in moral theology/Christian ethics and, in any case, have not actually seen the Curran dossier, we shall not presume to comment on the specific points of disagreement between Father Curran and the Congregation.
However, the letter does raise many serious questions which transcend any specific point of disagreement: (1) Which noninfallible teachings are serious enough to provoke such a result, and how are those teachings determined? (2) How many noninfallible teachings would one have to disagree with before this result would follow, and how is that number determined? (3) If disagreement with any noninfallible teaching of the Church is sufficient to provoke this result, on what theological, doctrinal, or historical basis is that principle deduced? (4) If one is declared no longer a Catholic theologian, does that modify in any way the theologian's relation to the Catholic Church itself? If so, how? If not, what does such a declaration mean?
One could leave aside entirely such substantive theological questions as these and still be profoundly disturbed by this letter and the threat of action contained in it. If Father Curran's views on the various issues mentioned in the letter are so incompatible with Catholic teaching that he must be declared no longer a Catholic theologian, justice and fairness would dictate that other Catholic theologians who hold similar views should be treated in exactly the same fashion.
Indeed, the credibility of any action on the part of the Congregation would be seriously undermined by a failure to identify and act upon other such cases. The problem is, of course, that there are very many Catholic theologians who do dissent from noninfallible teachings.
This threatened action also raises serious questions about the academic integrity of Catholic institutions of higher learning. For many years, enemies of the Catholic Church in the United States have argued that Catholic colleges and universities are not independent academic institutions, but are nothing more than educational arms of the official Church. If Father Curran were removed from his position as a professor of theology at The Catholic Univeristy of America, it would be far more difficult to rebut this charge, and particularly as it might apply to that national institution.
We should like to make one final remark about Charles Curran himself. Father Curran enjoys the complete respect of his colleagues in the American Catholic theological community and beyond. We can think of no Catholic theologian in this country who is more well-liked and personally admired than Charles Curran. He is generous and considrate to a fault, toward colleagues and students alike.
There would be much more than professional distress, therefore, if the contemplated action against him were carried out. Walter J. Burghardt, Editor, Theological Studies Vera Chester, College of St. Catherine Bernard Cooke, College of the Holy Cross Richard P. McBrien, University of Notre Dame Richard A. McCormick, Georgetown University Luke Salm, Manhattan College Gerard S. Sloyan, Temple University David W. Tracy, University of Chicago Rodger Van Allen, Villanova University