I have just finished reading the new book by Fr. Peter Mitchell titled “The Coup at Catholic University: The 1968 Revolution in American Catholic Education.” I was especially interested in reading this book because I know Fr. Mitchell. He was ordained a priest in my former diocese, the Lincoln, Nebraska, Diocese, in 1999 before moving on to the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I also know about the turmoil of 1968, when I was a sophomore/junior at Iowa State University and when I had a summer job at the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago during which the Democratic National Convention was held in this same city, Chicago. The Democrats were preparing to nominate Hubert Humphrey for president to run against Richard Nixon following the refusal of Lyndon Johnson to run again due to the pressures of the Vietnam War. Race relations were at a low point in our beloved country because Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated that April. In addition, Robert Kennedy had also just been assassinated in June of that year.
On top of all of this, the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council had ended in Rome three years before and Pope Paul VI had just published his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), in July, 1968. Yes, a lot going on. If you are a Catholic, however, the coup at Catholic University of America (CUA) may have just been the most notable affair of all. You will recall that in Humanae Vitae, the Pope declared that the use artificial means of birth control is gravely sinful. It happened that a Catholic priest, Fr. Charles Curran, who was a professor of Moral Theology at CUA, dissented and split with the Pope on the issue and declared that it is okay to use artificial means of birth control if that is what your conscience dictates.
Thus began an ongoing feud between the liberal and conservative factions in the Catholic Church that carries on even to this day. It is not unlike the liberal and conservative factions at work in modern politics. In the Catholic Church, it boils down to a dispute over teaching authority. Historically in the Catholic Church ultimate teaching authority is given to the Pope together with Catholic bishops worldwide, the so-called Magisterium. The Church teaches that the Magisterium cannot err in matters of faith and morals in its role as this ultimate authority. The movement at CUA, in effect, set up an alternate authority, that of Catholic theologians at Catholic universities.
I think you can see what intrigued me about this book. I can recommend this book to you, especially if you are struggling to come to terms with the liberal vs conservative battle going on today as it relates to Catholic education, both at the high school and college levels. It is why this topic is in MTT today.