The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II

Charles E. Curran

"An excellent overview of John Paul II's moral teaching, and a most valuable resource for studying and assessing the Pope's overall contribution to Christian ethics."
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Pope John Paul II is the second longest serving pope in history and the longest serving pope of the last century. His presence has thrown a long shadow across our time, and his influence on Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world cannot be denied. Much has been written about this pope, but until now, no one has provided a systematic and thorough analysis of the moral theology that underlies his moral teachings and its astonishing influence. And no one is better positioned to do this than Charles E. Curran, widely recognized as the leading American Catholic moral theologian.

Curran focuses on the authoritative statements, specifically the fourteen papal encyclicals the pope has written over the past twenty-five years, to examine how well the pope has addressed the broad issues and problems in the Church today. Curran begins with a discussion of the theological presuppositions of John Paul II's moral teaching and moral theology. Subsequent chapters address his theological methodology, his ethical methodology, and his fundamental moral theology together with his understanding of human life. Finally, Curran deals with the specific issues of globalization, marriage, conscience, human acts, and the many issues involved in social and sexual ethics.

While finding much to admire, Curran is nonetheless fiercely precise in his analysis and rigorously thoughtful in his criticism of much of the methodological aspects of the pope's moral theology—in his use of scripture, tradition, and previous hierarchical teaching; in theological aspects including Christology, eschatology, and the validity of human sources of moral wisdom and knowledge; and in anthropology, the ethical model and natural law. Brilliantly constructed and fearlessly argued, this will be the definitive measure of Pope John Paul II's moral theology for years to come.

Table of Contents


1. Theological Presuppositions

2. Theological Methodology

3. Ethical Foundations and Method

4. Conscience, Human Acts, and Human Life

5. Marriage, Sexuality, Gender, and Family

6. Social Teaching



"Curran deftly maps the moral theology that underlies Pope John Paul II's moral teachings . . . Respect for the church's tradition as a source of moral insight means avoiding the urge to rush to judgment, be it dismissive or valorizing. And in advancing this task, Curran's book is a welcome and valuable contribution."—Commonweal

"Curran has produced another important and timely contribution to Christian ethics, an especially helpful one for coming to terms with Pope John Paul II's methodological contributions to contemporary Catholic moral theology. It will be a valuable resource for students of the tradition."—Journal of Religion

"A must for American Catholic intellectuals who care about authentic Catholic conversation around what we most deeply value in our tradition."—Horizons

"Curran draws on a wealth of knowledge and experience to evaluate John Paul II's work. He covers complex matters in his distinctive clear and direct style. For all who want a serious, critical analysis in relation to Catholic social tradition and the development of moral theology, this treatment is unsurpassed."—Lisa Sowle Cahill, J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College

"Charles Curran has given us a much-needed volume and has done so in masterful vision. Bringing together the teachings of the major social encyclicals with the moral and theological foundations of more general documents such as Veritatis splendor and Fides et ratio, Curran has provided the first comprehensive overview of the papal social perspective. He points to its genuine strengths but likewise shows its inconsistencies and questionable assumptions. No one serious about understanding Catholic social teaching can ignore this work."—John T. Pawlikowski, professor of social ethics, Catholic Theological Union

"An excellent overview of John Paul II's moral teaching, and a most valuable resource for studying and assessing the Pope's overall contribution to Christian ethics."—David Hollenbach, SJ, Margaret O'Brien Flatley Chair in Catholic Theology, Boston College

"A penetrating analysis of the moral theology of one of the dominant religious leaders of our time by one of contemporary Catholicism's most respected thinkers. Catholics and non-Catholics alike will be impressed by Fr. Curran's insights and criticisms and by the fair-minded and gracious spirit in which he offers them."—J. Philip Wogaman, professor emeritus of Christian ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary

"There are books that provide overviews of the teaching of John Paul II and books that delve into the biographical background of his faith and teaching. I know of no book that examines so skillfully and carefully the theological and ethical method the pope utilizes in formulating his moral teaching."—Kenneth R. Himes, chair, Department of Theology, Boston College


Supplemental Materials


2006 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Theology, Second Place

About the Author

Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, is Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University. Curran, who has served as president of three national scholarly societies of theology and ethics, has written extensively in the field of moral theology, including The Catholic Moral Tradition Today: A Synthesis and Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis.

280 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-042-0
Jan 2005
Not for sale in the UK, EU, & British Commonwealth

280 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Jan 2005
Not for sale in the UK, EU, & British Commonwealth

280 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-451-0
Jan 2005
Not for sale in the UK, EU, & British Commonwealth

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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