Curran: Britain's theologians speak out
by Jack O'Sullivan SOME of Britain's leading Catholic theologians this morning attacked what they see as restriction of free discussion by Church authorities.
They claimed that the cases of Fr Charles Curran, banned last month by the Vatican from teaching Catholic theology, and of other theologians suggest a Chuch clampdown.
The statement, released today, is addressed to Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Thomas Winning of Glasgow. The 29 signatories declare: "We Catholic theologians wish to express to you our urgent concern at an apparent tendency in some recent actions of ecclesiastical authorities to compromise the legitimate exercise of responsible freedom in theological discussion and debate within the Church."
Fr John Mahoney SJ, Professor at King's College, London, was among 13 priests who signed the document. The imprimatur ("permission to print") on his book, Bioethics and Belief, Religion and Medicine in Dialogue, was withdrawn in July by Westminster archdiocese. There
had been complaints that parts of the book did not coincide with official Church teaching.
In all, 29 theologians put their names to the statement which was agreed at an extraordinary meeting on Monday of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.
The statement was passed after a 45-minute debate, at which almost half the theologians who had been attending the weekend annual general meeting of the Association were absent. The signatories stressed that they did not claim to speak for the Association as a whole.
Fr Kevin Kelly former director of Upholland Northern Institute, who has received strong criticism from Bishop Francis Thomas of Northampton, for publicly supporting the views of Fr Curran, was at the debate. But he took a back seat and abstained from signing.
But senior figures such as Fr Herbert McCabe, author of the new catechism, and Fr Timothy Radcliffe, Prior of Blackfriars, Oxford, backed the statement. They joined top theologians Fr Joseph O'Hanlon from UNI, and Fr Robert Murray SJ from Heythrop.
Theologians such as Fr David McLoughlin, from Oscott College, have risked censure by signing.
No response to the theologians has yet come from Cardinal Hume or Archbishop Winning.
But Bishop Mario Conti of Aberdeen has joined Bishop Thomas in criticising Fr Kelly's pro-Curran liberal stance on sexual morality. He described it as "wanting in many respects".
He challenged Fr Kelly's interpretation of Vatican 11, his representation of conflict within the Church and his separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality.
"I am highly suspicious of any moral theology which divorces human sexual love from its biological base", Bishop Conti wrote in Saturday's Times.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has curbed another vocal American liberal. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle has effectively been demoted. An auxiliary, Bishop Donald Wuerl, has been named to take over his "decision-making power" on such moral issues as birth control and homosexuality.
The change which came to light this week, occurred in February when the Vatican sent Bishop Wuerl to Seattle after conservative Catholics had objected to some of the views expounded by their archbishop, who was appointed in 1975.
And in New York Cardinal John O'Connor's Vicar General, Bishop Joseph O'Keefe has ordered his clergy not to invite speakers to Church functions who do not accept the Church's teaching on sexual morality. New York Governor Mario Cuomo has criticised the ruling.
Meanwhile, Fr Curran has told Catholic University of America officials that he will use internal university procedures to fight his dismissal from his job teaching Catholic theology.