Conservative Roman Catholic scholars, supporting Vatican efforts to oust the Rev. Charles Curran from his teaching post as a Catholic theologian, said dissenters like Curran are to blame for moral disarray in the American church.
Father Richard Roach, associate professor of moral theology at Marquette University and a one-time opponent of the church's stance on birth control, said dissent in the church has "done unbelievable spiritual damage."
"Behind the masses of ex-priests, the masses of ex-nuns, the masses of broken marriages lies dissent," Roach told a news conference Thursday.
Roach was joined by William May, a colleague of Curran's at the Catholic University of America, which is chartered by the Vatican. Like Curran, May is a moral theologian.
Had Some Criticism
May, who said Curran is "a friend . . . a good Catholic, in many ways a holy man," also said Curran's claim that he exercises "loyal and legitimate theological dissent" from some church teachings on sexual ethics is "spurious" and accused the theologian of taking radical positions that have created "a scandalous situation."
"It is time for Catholic scholars and those institutions claiming Catholic identity to repudiate this spurious notion of radical theological dissent and to take seriously their obligation to give the assent of faith to truths infallibly proposed and a religious assent of soul to authoritative teachings of the magisterium (church authority)," May said.
May also said many colleges and universities--which he did not name--"formerly noted for their strong Catholic identity, are now not only tolerating but encouraging such dissent."
No Longer Eligible
On Aug. 18, Curran announced that the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined that he is "no longer suitable or eligible" to hold the position of an official Catholic theologian because of his dissent from church teachings on such issues as abortion, birth control and homosexuality.
Curran maintains that his dissent is legitimate on a number of grounds, including the fact that he does not disagree with "infallible" teachings of the church and is in accord with conditions for dissent set out by U.S. Catholic bishops in 1968.
But the conservative scholars said Curran is undermining the church and the Vatican action was necessary "to protect the autonomy of the Catholic Church against those who would usurp its name and destroy its identity."
"The Vatican decision . . . is necessary to protect the identity of the Catholic Church and the right of Catholics to receive what is promised in that name," said Damian Fedoryka, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.
He accused critics of the Vatican action of "anti-Catholic bigotry, as irrational as it is virulent," and said theologians like Curran were using the slogan "academic freedom" to justify "the theft of a name and identity."
Fedoryka compared church doctrines to Kentucky Fried Chicken and said the church has the right to insist that its schools "use the authentic recipe, not a substitute recipe."
James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, said in an interview that it is "clear that there is a groundswell of support in the Catholic academic community for the recent action by the Vatican."
Hitchcock, who recently served as president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, said the organization has "the signatures of 1,400 faculty members from many Catholic institutions who believe that this action by Rome was necessary to maintain the integrity of the church doctrine."
Curran was supported in his dispute with the Vatican by the nine recent past presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the College Theological Society as well as about 750 other Roman Catholic scholars, writers and ethicists.
Curran, who has vowed to fight his ouster through university procedures, has also won the support of the Women's Ordination Conference, a group within the church fighting for the ordination of women to the priesthood.