A Call to Fidelity examines the legacy of Charles Curran to Catholic moral theology in the United States over the last forty years. Particular attention to those areas in which his contribution is most significant: fundamental moral theology, medical and sexual ethics, social and political ethics, as well as ecumenical, international and intergenerational dialogue.
Thirteen prominent moral theologians from the United States and Europe offer their assessment and perspective. The wealth and expertise represented by the group testifies to the value and the breadth of this volume. After an introduction by Daniel Maguire, four authors evaluate Curran's contributions to fundamental moral theology: Timothy O'Connell, "The Moral Person, Anthropology and Virtues," James Keenan, "The Moral Agent: Actions and Normative Decision Making," Margaret Farley "Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self-Doubt," and James Coriden, "Moral Theology and Academic Freedom." Curran's legacy to Sexual and Medical Ethics is assessed by Kevin Kelly, "Divorce and Remarriage," Lisa Sowle Cahill, "Sexual Ethics," and James Walter, "Perspectives of Medical Ethics." Kenneth R. Himes, "Hierarchical Catholic Social Teaching," Thomas Shannon, "Catholic Social Ethics in the United States," and J. Bryan Hehir, "A Catholic Troeltsch? Curran on the Social Ministry of the Church" chronicle the thought of Curran in social and political arenas. The final section looks at Curran's work in dialogue with other Christian traditions (James Gustafson), European Catholic ethics (Raphael Gallagher), and the younger generation (Bryan N. Massingale).
The authors use a three-part approach to their respective topics: 1) history and state of the question; 2) review and critical evaluation of Curran's contribution; and 3) challenges and future agenda. A complete bibliography of Curran's published works provides an invaluable research tool for contemporary scholars or teachers.
Rather than evaluate the individual chapters, this review highlights three intertwined themes to which these colleagues of Curran repeated as Curran's legacy. First, Curran's life project was the re-interpretation or reformulation of the manualist fundamental moral theology. This project was grounded in a turn to historical consciousness, notably in his approach to natural law (Keenan, Walter, Cahill, Gallagher), to the centrality of the human person (Cahill, Keenan, Gallagher), and to dialogue with other disciplines and perspectives (Walter, Gustafson).
Second, Curran's work makes its home in the Roman Catholic ecclesial context (Farley). From his position within the church, he sought to reformulate the manualist tradition for the academy in dialogue with other partners (Gallagher). Curran's position on dissent was less rooted in freedom of conscience and more rooted in a theology of the church's teaching function and office (Cahill). The church as teacher and learner, as provider for the needy, as empowerer and enabler, as advocate and as model for society frames Curran's approach to social ethics (Hehir). Third, Curran contributed a five-point approach to moral theology: fundamental stance, an ethical model, person-centered anthropology, virtues and principles, as well as decisions of conscience (Himes, Gallager, Hehir). Curran's theological stance describes his Catholic identity through the five-fold mysteries of creation, sin and grace, incarnation, redemption and resurrection destiny. That is, Curran's moral theology has room for saints and sinners, sees the stuff of world as the raw material of City of God, and posits personal and communal engagement in the transforming process. This stance roots the Catholic "and": grace and sin, universal and particular, realized and future, reason and revelation (Walter, Cahill, Gallagher, Hehir, Himes). Curran's relationality-responsibility model stands as an alternative to deontological and teleological models (O'Connell, Walter, Cahill, Gallagher). Hence committed care and partnership, sexual union and pleasure, and mutual responsibility for children inhere in a relationship, not in an act (Cahill). Although Curran's theological anthropology has not become a fully developed anthropology, the centrality of the human person stands tall within Curran's approach. (O'Connell, Cahill, Walter). Curran's approach to conscience stresses its Spirit-based creativity (Keenan) and its relational nature since the human person is essentially relational rather than specific judgments of conscience (Gallagher). Curran's deliberate recourse to this systematic approach remains a major contribution to Catholic moral theology as well as grounds Curran's position on the plurality of ethical positions (Hehir, Gallagher)
Recurring critiques include a certain abstract character (Gallagher, Keenan) consistent with a moral theology which is addressed to the academy and which attempt to re-interpret the manual tradition. In addition, Gallagher, O'Connell, and Walter note the need for a more fully developed theological anthropology, given its central position in Curran's approach. Finally, Massingale both describes a new social context and clearly articulates the challenges and future agenda for Catholic ethicists. This book ought to have a central position on the shelves and in the teaching of any Catholic ethicist in the United States of America.