Outspoken theologian challenged orthodoxy

Fr McBrien

Fr Richard McBrien, a theologian and professor at Notre Dame University in the USA, challenged orthodoxy in the Church for five decades and explained and popularised the reforms of Vatican II, writes The New York Times.

Richard McBrien, American priest, academic, theologian.

Born 1936; died 2015

Fr McBrien, died at his home in Farmington, Connecticut. He was 78. The University of Notre Dame, which announced his death, said he had a rare brain disorder. Retired in 2013, he had recently returned to Connecticut, where he was born and raised.

“No Catholic theologian in the United States has made a larger contribution to the reception of Vatican II than Richard McBrien did,” the Rev Charles Curran, a professor of human values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said in an interview on Tuesday.

After he was ordained in 1962, Fr McBrien, the son of an Irish-American police officer and an Italian-American nurse, wrote 25 books and a nationally syndicated weekly column. He became the chairman of the theology department at Notre Dame, president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and a consultant during the making of the 2006 movie The Da Vinci Code.

“At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s,” The National Catholic Reporter said in its obituary, “it is arguable that McBrien had a higher media profile than anyone in the Catholic Church other than Pope John Paul II. He was the ideal interview: knowledgeable, able to express complex ideas in digestible sound bites, and utterly unafraid of controversy.”

That fearlessness manifested itself in his outspoken support for the ordination of women as priests, the repeal of obligatory celibacy and the acceptance of birth control; his defiance of the papal doctrine of infallibility; and his willingness to publicly confront the crisis of pedophilia in the priesthood. (He called for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston shortly after it was revealed in 2001 that he had kept abusive priests working in parishes. Cardinal Law stepped down in December 2002.)

In 1984, in collaboration with the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president, Father McBrien invited Governor Mario Cuomo of New York to speak at Notre Dame to reconcile his personal convictions as a Roman Catholic with what he saw as his public responsibility in a pluralistic society to uphold access to abortion.

That extraordinary address by Mr Cuomo, who died this month, came after his public debate with the new archbishop of New York, John O’Connor, who said he did not see “how a Catholic in good conscience can vote for a candidate who explicitly supports abortion.”

Read full article: Rev Richard McBrien, Catholic Firebrand, Dies at 78 (The New York Times)

MORE:

Fr Richard McBrien, theologian and church expert, dies at 78 (National Catholic Reporter)

Notre Dame theologian Fr Richard McBrien dies (The Catholic Herald)

History and mystery: Two themes that guided the late Fr Richard McBrien (National Catholic Reporter)

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