A Cautionary Tale

Academic Freedom, 'Ex Corde,' & the Curran Case

Now that the American bishops have voted overwhelmingly to adopt the revised norms requiring the application of Ex corde ecclesiae to Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, it is instructive to recall the Curran case. The Catholic University of America’s successful ouster, a little more than ten years ago, of Rev. Charles E. Curran, one of the country’s most preeminent professors of Catholic theology, illustrates what might happen in any other Catholic university that chooses to become "officially" Catholic by adopting Ex corde ecclesiae, as the norms require in most cases. (see "Look Before You Leap," Commonweal, April 9, 1999, and "The Vatican, the Bishops, and the Academy," Commonweal, September 26, 1997).

At the time, there was a perception that Curran’s difficulties with Catholic University resulted from the "special relationship" that the university had with the church, and that although what was happening to Curran was unfortunate for him personally, no great lessons for other Catholic universities could be drawn because The Catholic University of America was "different." However, the new norms’ requirement of a "juridical...

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About the Author

Paul C. Saunders is Of Counsel in the Litigation Department of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, and a Distinguished Visitor from Practice at Georgetown Law School.