DR CHRISTINE ROUSSEL…
Historian, Dr Christine Roussel, has long been a supporter of progressive endeavours in the Church and I am pleased to say she was one of the first to offer me encouragement when setting up Catholica Australia. The following review of Fr Charles Curran's latest book, "Loyal Dissent", has been published in the current edition (Vol 18 No 6, Nov-Dec 2006) of ARCC Light which is not yet available online.
As honest, intelligent, straightforward and challenging as he is...
Father Curran's eagerly-awaited memoir is everything we wished — it is as honest, intelligent, straightforward and challenging as he is. "Loyal Dissent" is an ideal title, for it sums up Father Curran's attitude and his entire career. In reading this memoir one is immediately struck by his deep and abiding love for and loyalty to the Church and his lifelong commitment to service to it and the People of God.
For Curran, dissent is an honorable term and an honorable service to the Church. Loyal dissent is intended to be helpful and constructive to a Church always in need of correction and reform. Indeed, Curran adds a fifth mark to the four traditionally attributed to the Church: it is one, holy, Catholic,apostolic and sinful (p. 19). Thus, Curran recognizes that his search for truth will be lifelong, just as the Church's pilgrimage toward complete understanding of the truth is eternal. He is a pilgrim, serving a pilgrim church.
Father Curran has published several books (a bibliography is conveniently included at the end of the book) and his ideas and contributions to contemporary moral theology are clearly set forth in them and in numerous articles.What is of particular interest to this historian is that here Curran shows us the development of his thought and the situations and circumstances which willy nilly turned this scholarly and obedient priest into the icon of latter twentieth-century Catholic independence of thought and resistance to Roman theological micro management. Other books, such as Christian Morality Today, (Fides, 1966) will show more fully his early attempts in the renewal of moral theology to reconcile traditional Catholic teaching with the demands of modern life, and Faithful Dissent (Sheed and Ward, 1986) will spell out and document his "controversy"(his term) with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith much more completely, but this book, Loyal Dissent, is the whole package as it happened(to the best of his recollection) from beginning to present. It explains how Curran arrived at each of the intellectual positions that landed him in hot water with ecclesiastical authorities. I was particularly struck by Curran's utter lack of bitterness or spite against those who have persecuted him, his personal and professional openness and humility, and his quiet and consistent sticking to his positions. His humility and lack of rancor stand in stark contrast to the pettiness of much of the American hierarchy in the events described.
For these reasons, and because Curran is a priest and teacher who cannot pass up an opportunity to teach, Loyal Dissent is not alight read. It is clear and well-written in Curran's usual "what you see is what you get" style, but it does require concentration and attention, especially in the chapters in which he discusses the development of theology in the past fifty years and his moral theology. The results,however, are more than worth the effort.
That is not to say that this memoir is a drudge to read. Father Curran's sense of humor, which he admits has been a saving grace throughout his life, surfaces frequently and sometimes unexpectedly. The following passage leads one to wonder if he is an undercover deadpan comedian or a consummate straight man in theological robes.
In the midst of a discussion of his teaching method at CUA, he quotes the chorus of an "ode" written by one of his seminar group sand passed on to their successors:
Now working on the Charlie papers
Curran's book is, needless to say, a joy and a veritable goldmine...
On a more serious note, Curran's book is, needless to say, a joy and a veritable goldmine for Catholics of ARCC's persuasion. His clearly-written expositions and theological explanations of what are actually the principles undergirding the Catholic reform movement are varied and extremely useful.Also, while maintaining traditional Catholic theology, Curran draws clear distinctions between revealed "truths" and moral teachings deduced from those truths, from reason and from natural law. He accepts and has a healthy respect for the unknown, the changing, the culture — or time-bound, the relative and the evolving. To quote just one passage:
The hierarchical magisterium has changed its teaching on usury, slavery, the ends of marriage, religious freedom, democracy, human rights, the right of the defendant not to incriminate himself, and capital punishment. I have appealed to catholicity and mediation, and to the pilgrim nature of the church, in my criticism of the hierarchical magisterium's claim to absolute certitude on specific moral teachings. Thus the Catholic theological tradition at its best can criticize official church teaching when it fails to recognize the implications of its own theological tradition.(p. 195)
A failure to recognize and accept these factors is why the hierarchy and especially John Paul II's CDF reacted so strongly to Father Curran's insistence on the right and even the duty to examine and sometimes question non-infallible teachings of the Church. In fact, for Curran, questioning sacred cows is sometimes a virtue. Without examination and the tension of differing views — of leaders, of believers, and of scholars — there is no progress. There must be room for disagreement within the Church to maintain its vitality.
As Father Curran says in his final chapter, "As essential as structural reform is for the Catholic Church, it will not solve all our problems … Here we all need the three gifts of wisdom,courage and patience." (p. 250)
And we need interesting and challenging books such as this.
Christine M. Roussel
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2007Christine M Roussel