For close to forty years Charles E. Curran has played a pivotal role in the teaching, mediation, and development of Roman Catholic moral theology, both in North America, throughout the Catholic Church, and, increasingly, among Christian ethicists of differing traditions. His accomplishments within moral theology appear similarly boundless, for his teaching and writing covers the areas of fundamental moral theology, social, economic, historical, medical and sexual moral theology. And he has been a key participant in the important discussions about academic freedom in the ecclesiastical context, particularly in the American university setting.
Born in March of 1934, Fr. Curran was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic diocese of Rochester, New York. Although he expected to work in parish-ministry, after the completion of his seminary education at St. Bernard’s College in 1955, his bishop sent him to Rome for further studies, which he undertook both at the Pontifical Gregorian University and Academia Alfonsiana, where he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from each institution in 1961. That year Fr. Curran returned to teach at the seminary where he had studied. He has taught moral theology ever since: St. Bernard’s Seminary (1961-65), The Catholic University of America (1965-89), visiting professorships at Cornell University (1987-88), University of Southern California (1988-90), Auburn University, Alabama (1990-91). Since 1991 he has been the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas. He is past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (1969-70), the Society for Christian Ethics (1971-72), and the American Theological Society (1989-90), and serves on the editorial boards of several theological journals (Église et théologie, Horizons, Journal of Religious Ethics, Annual of Society of Christian Ethics).
Since 1966 he has regularly published books and collections of his essays through Fides Publishers — then, later, the University of Notre Dame Press — on major aspects of contemporary moral theology. These include: Christian Morality Today (1966), Ongoing Revision: Studies in Moral Theology (1975), Issues in Sexual and Medical Ethics (1978), Directions in Catholic Social Ethics (1985), The Living Tradition of Catholic Moral Theology (1992). 1986 saw the publication of his important Faithful Dissent (Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward), and in recent years he has published on the history of moral theology (History and Contemporary Issues: Studies in Moral Theology [NY: Continuum, 1996], and The Origins of Moral Theology in the United States: Three Different Approaches [Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1997]). The present year sees the publication of his co-authored work, The Catholic Moral Tradition Today: A Synthesis (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1999).
Among his many editorial contributions is the Paulist Press series, Readings in Moral Theology, begun in 1979 with his long-time colleague, Richard A. McCormick, S.J. Topics in this series have covered timely areas of contemporary moral theology, ranging from moral norms (1979) to the use of Scripture in moral theology (1984) to natural law (1991) and to Pope John Paul II’s relationship to contemporary moral theology (1998).
He has been honored in the New York Times, by ABC News, by the Catholic Theological Society of America with the John Courtney Murray award (1972), and by the University of Charleston, West Virginia, and Concordia College, Oregon, with honorary doctorates.