Richard McCormick, R.I.P.

Richard McCormick, SJ, died last month at the age of seventy-seven. Widely regarded as the most influential contemporary American moral theologian, McCormick’s work was a model of intellectual precision and integrity. Famous for his resonant smoker’s voice, ready laugh, and unpretentious manner, McCormick was a beloved mentor to dozens of younger colleagues. From 1965 to 1984 he wrote the influential "Notes on Moral Theology" for the scholarly journal Theological Studies, and in doing so was always careful to present the best arguments of those with whom he disagreed. After years as a Jesuit seminary instructor, he taught at the Kennedy Center for Bioethics at Georgetown, finishing his academic career as the John A. O’Brien Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Notre Dame. He was a nationally recognized authority on bioethics, an articulate defender of the church’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia, and a pioneering figure in the renewal of Catholic moral theology in the aftermath of Vatican II. Commonweal readers have been familiar with his byline since 1964, when he first appeared here writing on the question of "marital morality." His last piece for the magazine (August 14, 1998) laid out, in his customarily direct and succinct style, his principled opposition to "punishing dissent" in the church.

McCormick was an outspoken defender of "conscientious dissent" from church teachings on...

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