Growing tensions in the Roman Catholic Church between the conservative hierarchy and increasingly independent, liberal theologians broke into open revolt last month on two controversial fronts: birth control and academic freedom.

On birth control, a member of the Pope’s special commission leaked to the press highly secret position papers that showed dramatic division on the issue, with the majority opinion favoring contraception and rejecting the idea that the church’s historic stand is unalterable.

Meanwhile, at Washington, D. C.’s, Catholic University of America, the Rev. Charles E. Curran, a liberal-minded assistant professor, became the center of a dispute over academic freedom. Faculty and student body united last month to boycott classes for five days after the board of trustees, without explanation, failed to renew Curran’s teaching contract despite unanimous endorsement by his colleagues.

While the instances were individual, the issue in each case was the same: Who will control the direction of the church in its post-Vatican Council era?

This question sparked the dramatic confrontation late last month at CU, the church’s national university, whose administration includes all American cardinals and archbishops.

On the surface the issue appeared clear-cut: A professor in the School of Sacred Theology was fired without either stated charges or a hearing. The school’s faculty reacted swiftly in a move equally clear-cut. Their statement read:

“The academic freedom and security of every professor in this university is jeopardized. Under these circumstances, we cannot function unless and until Father Curran is reinstated.”

The following day the revolt caught fire across the whole university, and nearly all the 6,600 students and ...

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