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There He Goes Again Print E-mail
By William Saunders   
Tuesday, 09 November 2010

There was a famous moment in the 1980 presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter when Carter made a misleading remark about Reagan, who replied, “There you go again.” Thus effectively exposing Carter’s misleading remark for what it was. I was reminded of this when I learned of a recent talk by the Rev. Charles Curran, a dissenter forced out of the Catholic University of America, now at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Curran made a career out of disagreeing with the Church’s stands on moral and sexual issues, which eventually resulted in his change of venue from the nation’s capital  to Texas.

Vivid in our memories are the events of November 2 – many pro-life members elected to Congress, to state assemblies, and as governors and as state attorneys-general. But it is worth remembering that November was “election month” not only in the United States, but in many other nations, including South America’s largest, Brazil, where the issue of abortion was at the center of the race for president. 

The Holy Father himself weighed-in there. Speaking to Brazilian bishops in Rome, he made it absolutely clear that “any defense of political, economic, and social human rights that does not include the energetic defense of the right to life from conception to natural death is totally false and illusory.” He emphasized that “when political projects contemplate…the decriminalization of abortion…the democratic ideal – which is only truly such when it recognizes and safeguards the dignity of every human person – is betrayed at its foundation.” In other words, true democracy rests upon the dedicated defense of the defenseless unborn.  

Meanwhile,  the Rev Curran took the stage, three days before the U.S elections, and enunciated a different point of view. Curran said the American bishops were wrong to make abortion the preeminent issue of public policy, acting as if it were unlike other issues where prudence is at issue and “reasonable Catholics may differ.” Given what the pope said to the Brazilian bishops above, however, the stance of our bishops seems spot on – abortion must be banned from any society if that society is to achieve justice. Thus, bishops should exhort Catholic citizens to treat a candidate’s position on this matter as essential when deciding for whom to vote.

          Charles Curran. catholic. priest . . .

Father Curran claims, however, that Catholics might licitly decide to accept existing abortion laws and not seek to change them. He bases this claim upon what he says is one of the two ways in which Catholicism approaches the role of civil law, that is, the “religious freedom” approach developed in the documents of Vatican II (the other is the “natural law” approach). This is a puzzling idea, but perhaps he alludes to “freedom of conscience.” But Vatican II does not give an untethered right of “conscience.” Rather, along with the whole Catholic tradition, it says that one has a moral obligation to inform one’s conscience of the truth, including the teaching of the Magisterium (see, Gaudium et spes 16, and Dignitatis Humanae 14). That teaching, as the pope noted above, does condemn abortion as an “intrinsic evil,” which no just society can tolerate.

Curran, however, claims:

Even those who hold that abortion involves the killing of a human being could argue that there is no consensus on the issue in our society today. As a result one could give the benefit of the doubt to the freedom of the woman. The prudential recognition that it is impossible to change the present law today makes the argument for accepting the present law on the basis of the religious freedom approach even more cogent.

As far as I can make sense of this, Curran is claiming that “religious freedom” combined with “lack of consensus” and the “impossibility” of changing permissive abortion law permits one to “give the benefit of the doubt to the woman” and permit abortion. It is hard to imagine a position more at variance with the clear teaching of the Church. In reality the “lack” of consensus calls upon us to get busy and build a pro-life consensus. The “impossibility” of changing the law calls upon us to devise clever, long-term thinking on how to ban abortion. Neither counsels us to resignation to the legalization of intrinsic evil (“abortion rights”). Yet that is what Curran counsels. Or, rather, as he would put it, he simply notes that such a position is morally acceptable. One wonders how acceptable he would find it if he lived in a society that allowed slavery. Would he be talking about lack of consensus and passive acquiescence?

There he goes again. Not just Curran but all those Catholic teachers who mislead the faithful as to their moral obligations. In a society – ours – in which abortion is permitted at any time for any reason, where over 1 million unborn children are killed yearly by abortion, and where their mothers are maimed spiritually, physically, and psychologically, it is sad to hear this. As Benedict noted to the Brazilian bishops, “in defending life we should not fear opposition and unpopularity.” We should “refus[e] any compromise and ambiguity that conforms us to the mentality of this world.” 

November 2 swept many pro-life candidates into office. Let’s hope they are courageous and clear-sighted enough to follow Benedict’s bold lead. 


William Saunders is Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs at Americans United for Life. A graduate of the Harvard Law School, he writes frequently on a wide variety of legal and policy issues.
 

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written by Bill, November 10, 2010
It is important to read the letter sent by the CDF (Cdl. Ratzinger)which removed Fr. Curran from his position at Cath. U. It resulted from a ten year study of Curran's writings and speeches. It condemned Curran's arguments point by point and restated a very critical teaching: A SINGLE GRIEVOUS ACTION, UNREPENTED, COULD CONSIGN A SOUL TO HELL FOR ETERNITY. This refuted Curran's thesis of the Fundamental Option. The Vatican's blunder was not removing Curran from the priesthood.
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written by James Danielson, November 10, 2010
It appears that "Roe" and subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court regarding abortion had less to do with vindicating rights of privacy, and later of some odd notion of liberty, than with freeing women from their fertility so that they become less dependent upon men and more available to the labor market. This latter is a goal embraced both by Democrats and Republicans, which helps explain why Republicans have done nothing of substance on abortion even when they held both houses of Congress and the presidency. Republicans have the rhetoric that motivates pro-lifers at election time, but no follow-through.
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written by FW Ken, November 10, 2010
Perhaps 20 years ago I heard Fr. Curran debate Dr. Janet Smith on the subject of contraception. His argument was that since we have many "good Catholics" who contracept, Church teaching must adapt. That sounds a whole lot like accepting the law as it is. One of the jobs of the priest is to be a prophet and speak out against what is in favor of what God wants. It sounds as though Fr. Curran has abandoned that aspect of priesthood.
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written by John, November 10, 2010
According to Wikipedia, Curran 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.

Can someone explain how you can 'dissent' and 'accept' at the same time?

Mr. Saunders has done a good job of calling Current out. To see how far this wayward priest has strayed, Here is an excerpt from his "My Turn" column published Newsweek in June 2010, after the Pope's condemnation of his views were made know, Curran wrote:

"Today, about a third of people who were raised Catholic have left the church; no other major religion in the U.S. has experienced a larger net loss in followers in the last 30 years.

"Many of the issues that troubled me decades ago still contribute to this decline. Some, like those related to contraception, homosexuality, and family life, are considered matters of divine or natural law--the will of God--and, therefore, are immutable. I disagree, and I'm not alone, but we have been unable to convince the church to make changes. Other matters are considered a product of human law, which is alterable if the church thinks that doing so is in its best interest. The vow of priestly celibacy is one such statute: none, I believe, would be easier to change or, quite possibly, more important to the short-term health of the church.

"Lifting the ban might help address the pedophilia crisis--which, at least in the popular mind, was caused in part by the frustrations of celibacy. More importantly, it would reverse a damaging shortage of clergy. Between 1975 and today, the number of Catholic priests in the U.S. has slid from nearly 60,000 to about 40,000. Protestant churches, which allow their priests to have families, have seen no such struggles. I can only conclude that celibacy laws are to blame."
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written by John Duckett, November 10, 2010
I think Curran should be encouraged to join The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori's bunch of heretics. He can continue to swim cross current against the thousands of the faithful who are joining us. He can make great strides further liberalizing the confused avoiders of the narrow gate.
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written by Yezhov, November 10, 2010
Who will rid us of this wearisome sometime priest?
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written by Brian English, November 10, 2010
"This latter is a goal embraced both by Democrats and Republicans, which helps explain why Republicans have done nothing of substance on abortion even when they held both houses of Congress and the presidency. Republicans have the rhetoric that motivates pro-lifers at election time, but no follow-through."

Until Roe is overturned, the Republicans could hold every seat in Congress, and the Presidency, and the most they could do is legislate at the margins of the abortion issue. The Republicans need to have the Presidency and enough seats in the Senate to get real conservative judges on the Supreme Court so that Roe can be overturned.

And please take a look at Hadley Arkes' article from yesterday on this site and then get back to me on there being no difference between Republicans and Democrats on abortion.
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written by Martial Artist, November 10, 2010
As a relatively new Catholic, I am unclear about why someone who teaches such pernicious error remains ordained. In the case of an ordained academic, who exercises ordinary jurisdiction over Fr. Curran? And does not his unambiguous and unrepentant teaching of grave error not constitute sufficient grounds for laicization? ISTM that the fact he can present himself as a Catholic priest puts the souls of those who hear him in peril of ultimate damnation. I would be grateful to know reasons why he would not have been laicized.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer
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written by Bill, November 10, 2010
Mr. Topfer, let me attempt to answer your question by suggesting that different popes have styles of governance. Why, for example, did not John Paul II laicize Fr. Marciel Macial who was notorious with his three mistresses and six children by them? He created the Legionaries of Christ and their enormous wealth. Recall it was Cdl. Ratzinger who ordered Macial to a monastery while John Paul was still alive. The fact that Fr. Curran has been at SMU for years suggests that the Vatican could not muster the courage to do what has to be done.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., November 10, 2010
Curran? His name is Legion! And I am grateful that Mr. Saunders wrote this article. I'm fed up with my fellow layman who refuse, on supposed grounds of charity, to point it out when a priest preaches outright heresy from the pulpit to our children and then screams like banshee about his "academic freeedom" when called out for it. "Where's your theology degree?" such deceivers demand. "I don'd need no stinking degree," sez I. "I learned at my mother's knee that Satan DOES exist." And I tell 'em that I don't care what "most theologians" say, since Matthew 16:19 Doesn't say "Thou art most theologians." Okay, I know we are obliged to pray for them. Preciesly becuase of the priest shortages these Currans and McBriens get away with misinforming their flocks. Has anyone at TCT suggested compiling a "Syllabus of Outright Nonesense" itemizing the numerous popular heresies that Catholics should be on the look out for?
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written by James Danielson, November 10, 2010
Mr. English,

I didn't say there are no differences between Republicans and Democrats on abortion, I said that their rhetoric and their actions don't match. "Roe v. Wade" is unambiguously unconstitutional since all powers not delegated to the central government under the Constitution, or denied to the states, are reserved to the states. The Constitution neither gives to the central government the power to regulate the practice of medicine in the states nor does it deny this power to the states. Therefore it is a state power. The Supreme Court exercised, as Justice Rhenquist wrote at the time, raw (i.e., ungrounded) judicial power in "Roe." Congress has the power to restrict the appellate authority of the Court. When Republicans held the Congress, they attempted no such thing. Instead, they repeat the falsehood that the Supreme Court is empowered to declare what the Constitution means, and so we have to appoint right-thinking justices (which they manifestly have not done). This is an unambiguous cave-in. Republicans in power have not acted to challenge abortion-on-demand in any serious way. Their actions stand miles from their rhetoric.
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written by Brian English, November 11, 2010
"Congress has the power to restrict the appellate authority of the Court."

This is the Ron Paul Sanctity of Life Act approach. Two problems with it: (1) having an existing constitutional right, but barring any avenue to vindicate it in the federal courts, would be seen as blatently unfair, and would probably be held unconstitutional; and (2) Roe would still be considered valid and would have to be enforced by state courts.

I agree with you about Roe, but we need five members of the Supreme Court to agree with us. The Democrats are not going to put them there. And the Republicans will only be able to do it with control of the Presidency and at least 55 seats in the Senate.
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written by Michael, November 12, 2010
John wrote
“According to Wikipedia, Curran 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.

Can someone explain how you can 'dissent' and 'accept' at the same time?”

We know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape, when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted proposition. We know how long the Jansenists contrived to believe the Pope infallible in matters of doctrine, and at the same time to believe doctrines which he pronounced to be heretical, from Cum Occasione in 1653 to Unigenitus in 1713.
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written by Micha Elyi, November 14, 2010
Earlier, John asked, "Can someone explain how you can 'dissent' and 'accept' at the same time?"

Sure. Review the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:23-24.

Elsewhere, James Danielson appears to exhibit some confusion about "Republicans." They are not some undifferentiated lump of humanity, everywhere identical. The difference between the Republican Party and its Democrat counterpart is that among Republicans there is an ongoing debate (or, if you like, a tug-of-war) on the abortion question. Among Democrats, that debate has been virtually shut down and dissenters to that party's pro-death ideology are ostracized on their national stage.

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