News, Off Campus

BC Theology Profs. Meet With Pope Francis to Discuss Work in Theological Ethics

On the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day in Vatican City, seven members of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) walked through the Apostolic Palace filled with anticipation. Floating through room after room, the group inched closer to the papal library, where Pope Francis awaited.

CTEWC is an organization committed to building a global network of theological ethicists. In its mission statement, CTEWC recognizes the challenges of pluralism, promotes dialogue from and beyond local culture, and works to promote a world church that is not dominated by first world and western nations.

Rev. James Keenan, S.J., Canisius Professor of theology at Boston College and director of the Jesuit Institute, founded the CTEWC in 2003. He co-chairs the network’s planning committee with BC theology professor Kristin Heyer, who also met with the Pope. Toni Ross, associate director of the Jesuit Institute, also attended.

In order to expand the scope of Catholic theological ethics, the seven planning committee members of CTEWC went to Rome for a week-long trip. They built bridges with leaders of Pontifical Gregorian University, Alphonsian Academy, and Urbaniana University, and met with Cardinal Prefects of six congregations: Cardinals Turkson, Ravasi, Feloni, Farrell, Versaldi, and Archbishop Carballo. Initially, the group was not scheduled to meet with Pope Francis, but after a series of successful meetings with important Church leaders, they were offered a private audience with him.

“Ethicists believe in what people can become,” Keenan said. “We see what we could be, what we’re not, and what we can do to become better.”

The group’s meeting with the Pope marked the end of a successful week of cross-continental dialogue.

“I believe Pope Francis wanted to meet with us in order to promote ethical discourse,” Keenan said. “We emphasize reaching unity without uniformity and recognize the role of diversity in the Church.”

Keenan met the Pope first, who firmly shook his hand in both of his. When all were seated in the library, Pope Francis joked with committee member Linda Hogan, a professor at Trinity College, Dublin, about granting dispensations to drink beer and whiskey on Saint Patrick’s Day.

“Throughout our extended time together, [Pope Francis] remained very engaged, interjecting between each person’s presentation with questions, candid commentary, and interest in and appreciation for our work.”

—Kristin Heyer / Theology Professor at Boston College

An integral member of CTEWC, Rev. Lúcás Chan, S.J., could not be present at the meeting. In 2015, Chan unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Keenan said that Chan would have been overjoyed to meet the pope, so at their meeting, he presented a memorial card commemorating Chan’s life to Francis.

“After I gave him Lúcás’ memorial card he said, ‘This is a very gracious gesture,’” Keenan said.

At that moment, many of the committee members were moved to tears, overwhelmed by the memory of their dear friend and colleague, feeling his presence in the room.

“So whereas I expected the meeting to be quite formal, I had laughed and cried within the first several minutes,” Heyer said in an email. “This gave a personal and inviting feel to the remainder of the meeting.”

Throughout their visit with the Pope, members of the planning committee discussed the goals of CTEWC and explained their ethical specializations. Heyer, whose research focuses on Christian ethics and migration, explained the work and purpose of the network’s books series published by Orbis Press. The books address issues of feminism, sustainability, migration, biblical ethics, and the role of the moral theologian in the local church.

Thus far, the series encompasses four books: Living With(out) Borders, Just Sustainability, Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics, and Catholic Theological Ethics Past, Present, and Future: The Trento Conference.

Heyer spoke in detail about Just Sustainability, a volume of essays written by theologians from across the globe, which reflects upon climate change from various ethical standpoints. The book’s 25 contributors consider the implications of climate change in light of location, political structures, and theological values. Just Sustainability was published three months prior to the release of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, which reflects on climate change and advocates for action from both local and global vantage-points.

“[Just Sustainability’s] international essays reflect the authors’ diverse contexts, from Micronesia, to Kenya, to Brazil, in ways similar to how Pope Francis draws upon wisdom from local bishops’ conferences from around the world in Laudato Si‘,” Heyer said.

Both Just Sustainability and Laudato Si‘ address the relationship between social exclusion and environmental degradation. Both texts call for solutions that address all voices and communities from a perspective of justice and equality. Additionally, CTEWC offers scholarships to African women interested in completing their academic, professional and basic training in moral theology, social ethics, and theological ethics.

“We like to support new voices,” Keenan said. “We want the church to have more people talking, and women are key.”

On the first of each month, CTEWC sends out a newsletter called FIRST that features five essays written by theologians from each of the five continents that make up the network. Moreover, the network has helds nine conferences across the globe since 2006, ranging from Bogota, Colombia to Nairobi Kenya. The next conference will be held in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2018.

In order to empower the peripheries of theological ethics, CTEWC has arranged re-publication of the network’s book series within India and various African nations, ensuring the books are available to more people at lower prices.

“Throughout our extended time together, [Pope Francis] remained very engaged, interjecting between each person’s presentation with questions, candid commentary, and interest in and appreciation for our work,” Heyer said in an email.

Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Staff

March 26, 2017