Last week, professor of theology Lisa Cahill flew to Florida to receive the Yves Congar Award for Theological Excellence for her contributions in contemporary theological ethics. The award is given annually to a theologian who “embody the spirit of Cardinal Yves Congar, OP (1904-1995), by working, writing, and teaching in light of the tradition while moving that tradition forward to meeting the challenges of today,” according to Barry University, which presents the award.
At the ceremony in Miami, Fla. last week, Cahill spoke about the distinction between marriage and family. To the traditional Catholic faith, a family includes marriage, she said. But Cahill raised the argument that people do not need to be married to be a family. Take for example, she said, someone who is not married but still has other family: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
She believes that the church should not condemn them but help them. And in fact, last year, Cahill explained, the Pope married 20 couples, several of whom already had children together. As a result, the Catholic Church held up a positive view of marriage, which was a much more welcoming message than condemning those couples, according to Cahill.
“Like Congar, Lisa exemplifies how genuine reform of church thinking can remain both true to the deepest meaning of the Christian faith and also creatively responsive to new currents in intellectual and social life,” said Prof. David Hollenabach, a longtime friend of Cahill. “She has shown this in her work on sexual ethics, gender roles, bioethical issues, and the challenges of peace, war, and reconciliation in our divided world.”
Cahill has always been surrounded by the Catholic faith. She attended a religiously affiliated high school in Washington, D.C., that was just across the street from Georgetown University, and later the Jesuit-affiliated Santa Clara University for her B.A. For her Masters and Ph.D., she went the the University of Chicago Divinity School.
At Santa Clara, she majored in theology as well as English. During her time there she chose to pursue Christian ethics.
She explained that she began at the University of Chicago just after the Second Vatican Council, a meeting that resulted in many Jesuits seeking higher education. Because of the University of Chicago’s association with a Jesuit university, Cahill often had many Jesuits in her classes.
“I feel that I have a real affinity with the Jesuit identity and mission,” she said.
In 1976, she began to work at Boston College. Since joining the BC community, Cahill has made strides in the field of theology and ethics. Her numerous books, articles, and lectures all guide theology so that it better fits our world today. Among the topics that she has explored, Cahill has found that bioethics and gender equality, marriage, and family are among the most important at this time.
BC has been encouraging by giving her the freedom to be creative, despite the fact that not everyone agrees with her work, she said.
“There are places in the larger Catholic world that I would not feel as comfortable because there wouldn’t be the same openness to intellectual exploration of the tradition in a creative, forward-moving manner,” she said.
Cahill is encouraged by the expanded focus of today’s Catholic scholarship. For example, she is currently editing a book written by African theologians on the subject of AIDs. The book brings together the interests of violence and warfare, women’s rights, and bioethics, she said.
“They are just brilliant and inspiring African theologians: men and women, clergy and lay, who are writing about this from their own perspective,” she said. “It’s also a fantastic example of working within the tradition and moving it forward really into new continents and new contexts.”
Cahill’s voice has also influenced many—her influence is international, said Prof. James Keenan, S.J., a former student of Cahill’s.
“Cahill has taken traditions, like social justice and feminism, and made them act like engines in driving other traditions, like theological ethics, forward to answer all people’s needs for justice, participation, and development,” he said.
Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Senior Staff