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FutureChurch Celebrates 15th Anniversary with Fr. Charles Curran

Fr. Curran
Fr. Charlie Curran (second from left) with some of his many friends at FutureChurch’s 15th anniversary fundraising dinner.

By Jeremey Wilson

FutureChurch’s gala 15th anniversary dinner featured the respected moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran. Curran addressed over 400 on the role of the social mission in the Church, the proper place of freedom, and the intersections between faith and politics for both the Church hierarchy and ordinary Catholics.

He began by noting that the social mission is only part of what the Church does, and that the fight for social justice and peace are far from the exclusive property of the Catholic Church. The Church aims to be universal; it naturally follows that many different groups and views find a home under one large tent. Because of this diversity, there is a tension between the freedom of the believer and the unity of the Church. Curran used a quote often attributed to Pope John the 23rd but actually from the seventeenth-century English protestant theologian Richard Baxter: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity.” This tension, between the fundamentals of the faith and the fundamental freedom of individual Catholics, sets the boundaries in which the social mission of the Church can appropriately operate.

What is the proper involvement? According to Curran: to teach and motivate the consciences of its members; to provide direct service to the poor; to act as a model for society at large, as with the hospice movement; to empower the poor, through education and organization; and advocacy, on behalf of the poor, the needy, the marginalized, and those who have no voice.

But a tension becomes apparent when these roles are applied to specific problems. What role should Church leaders take when advocating for specific positions? Is it appropriate for a bishop to condemn welfare, abortion, or the war in Iraq?

Curran believes all human issues are moral issues, and thus for Catholics religious issues. But while our religion provides us the prism through which we view these issues, the Bible is not a briefing paper. Our shared beliefs tell us that it is right to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But to know how to do it -- raising the minimum wage, cutting taxes, raising tariffs, or something else? – requires special, specific knowledge not available through revelation.

In Curran’s view, Church leaders can sometimes appropriately take stands endorsing specific political positions. But before advocating for a position, they are responsible for acquiring an appropriate level of expertise, and must recognize that some Catholics can disagree in good faith.

It is however never proper for the Church to endorse a particular political party, for the good of both politics and the Church. There are too many issues for a party to deal with – the Church cannot speak authoritatively or for all Catholics on all of them, and in realms where Catholics might legitimately disagree, to endorse a party rather than an issue would be an overstep of authority. Similarly, it would be irresponsible for voters to vote for a party on the basis of a single issue. And from the Church’s perspective, political involvement means a sacrifice of moral authority and credibility. Europe has had Christian political parties for decades. The result has been that Europeans have drifted slowly away from their churches.

Fall 2005



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