'We Cannot Put Our Heads in the Sand'

By Curran, Charles E. | National Catholic Reporter, September 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

'We Cannot Put Our Heads in the Sand'


Curran, Charles E., National Catholic Reporter


The following are remarks made by Fr. Charles E. Curran, Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University, at the closing of a July 24-27 gathering of moral theologians in Trent, Italy.

This has been an extraordinary meeting of 600 Catholic moral theologians from all over the world that has contributed much to the development of Catholic moral theology. Thanks to the meeting at Padua [Italy] four years ago and this meeting now, the process of dialogue and interchange has been growing.

Both the understanding of the Church Catholic and of moral theology recognizes the need and importance of such dialogue and interchange. By definition, the Church Catholic is a big church, having room for both saints and sinners, people of all races and colors and languages, and people living in all parts of the world. Less than a century ago, moral theology was primarily a European enterprise, and moral theologians in Europe were in somewhat regular contact with one another through their writings. The fact that the textbooks were all in Latin made this communication even easier. But today, moral theology is done on every continent. Since Catholic moral theologians belong to a worldwide church, it is absolutely essential for moral theologians to learn from one another and to be in dialogue.

Moral theology today recognizes the role of social location as affecting all of us. We are finite individuals and are always limited because we exist in one space and culture and one particular time. We have become more conscious of this reality in the last few decades. We white Catholic moral theologians in the United States have rightly been criticized for our abysmal failure to recognize the evil of racism in our country and our church, and the consequent white privilege that we enjoy. Catholic feminists have reminded us of the patriarchy that continues to exist in our church and our society. Liberation theologians have recalled for us God's preferential option for the poor and the need for this to be an important hermeneutic principle in Catholic social ethics. Thus the type of dialogue and interchange taking place in this meeting is important for Catholic moral theology. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to [Jesuit Fr.] James Keenan [of Boston College] and the other people who have worked tirelessly to organize this meeting.

As I listened to our discussions of past, present and future, there was one important issue that did not receive enough attention. I refer to the different approaches taken by the majority of Catholic moral theologians and of the hierarchical magis-terium of the church. James Keenan in his acclaimed history of Catholic moral theology in the 20th century describes the methodology of Pope John Paul II's 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor as neo-manualist. Keenan goes on to say, "Few moral theologians found the encyclical a hospitable acceptance of their work during the 25 years since Humanae Vitae." Enda McDonagh has titled his latest book Theology in Winter Light.

This is not only a theoretical issue; it has practical ramifications since it deals with such concrete issues as contraception, sterilization, divorce, homosexuality, abortion in its legal and moral aspects, and especially the role of women in the church. …

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