Archbishop Hurley was born in Cape Town on November 9, 1915, the son of a lighthouse keeper, and was ordained as a priest in 1939. He was consecrated a Bishop of the Diocese in 1947 and, at the age of 31, became the youngest Catholic bishop in the world. In 1951, Hurley was appointed Archbishop of Durban, a position he held until his retirement in 1992.
The Archbishop was a founder member of the Diakonia Council of Churches in 1976, and was its first chairperson. On his retirement as Archbishop of Durban he was made Patron Emeritus and continued to serve on its council right up to the time of his death. The main hall of the Diakonia Centre is named in his honour.
The archbishop was for many years the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Hurley is remembered for his contribution to the struggle against apartheid, his concern for the poor and his commitment towards a more just and peaceful society.
In October 1984 Koevoet, a South African para-military police unit in Namibia, charged Hurley for making “false statements” concerning atrocities. In February 1985 Hurley was acquitted when the prosecutor announced that the state would not proceed with the trial, because its case was based on “rumour and hearsay evidence”.
Hurley was an outspoken Catholic priest, not only known for his opposition to apartheid but also his support for artificial contraception and married priests despite the church’s refusal to budge on both issues. Hurley publicly disagreed with Pope Paul VI over his encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the official objection of the Roman Catholic Church to methods of “artificial contraception” such as the Pill. Observers at the time commented that this cost him his “red hat” [the Cardinal’s mitre].
After retiring as Archbishop of Durban in 1993, he spoke up in favour of women priests as well. He was chancellor of the former University of Natal from 1993 to 1998.
Roman Catholic Emeritus Archbishop of Durban, Denis Eugene Hurley, died on the 13th February 2004.