Fr. Peter Mitchell
1968 witnessed perhaps the greatest revolution in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. It was led by Fr. Charles Curran, professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, with more than 500 theologians who signed a "Statement of Dissent" that declared Catholics were not bound in conscience to follow the Church's teaching in the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, that said artificial contraception is morally wrong because it is destructive of the good of Christian marriage.
The battle at Catholic University centered on the major question in Catholic higher education during the turbulent years after the Second Vatican Council, "What is the meaning of academic freedom at a Catholic university?" Curran and the dissenting theologians maintained they needed to be free to teach without constraint by any outside authority, including the bishops. The bishops maintained that the American tradition of religious freedom guaranteed the right of religiously-affiliated schools to require their professors to teach in accord with the authority of their church.
This book uses never-before published material from the personal papers of the key players at CUA to tell the inside story of the dramatic events that unfolded there. Beginning with the 1967 faculty-led strike in support of Curran, this book reveals the content of the internal discussions between the key bishops on the CUA Board of Trustees.
This work attempts to disprove both the standard "liberal" and "conservative" interpretation of the events of 1968, suggesting that the culture of dissent was a direct fruit of the excessive legalism and authoritarianism which marked the Church in the years preceding Vatican II. Because the polarization in 1968 has continued to define the experience of many American Catholics and has had an ongoing effect on Catholic education, this work should be extremely interesting to those who want to understand the past so as to move forward with a greater awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of Catholic education in the United States.
Fr. Peter Mitchell is a priest of the of the Diocese of Green Bay. He received his doctorate in Church History from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, in 2009. He has spent much of his priesthood working in Catholic education.