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“Bogotá 2016 Conference: A Date with History”

Pablo A. Blanco González

The first continental conference of ethicists, “Toward an Ethic of Participation and Hope”, will take place in May. Over 90 ethicists and specialists will be in attendance from over 20 countries in the Americas (from the Argentina to the U.S.), willing to promote collaboration and interaction among different fields and areas of study, in a project without borders. This is an unprecedented event.

This will take place from May 26-29, at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Bogotá, Colombia, and Organized by the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC).

A prophetic sign for the church

Hand in hand with the new winds initiated in the church by Pope Francis, CTEWC acknowledged the need to present a common vision for a more just, solidary, and fraternal world; for embracing the challenge of pluralism and the dialogue that moves beyond local cultures; and connecting it with academic reflection that is not dominated strictly by the North/Western paradigm.

The conference counts on the support and presence of various academic and social institutions from the continent, and especially from the Latin American Bishops Council (CELAM). The presence of CELAM is a sign of the new times initiated by Pope Francis, and that are proper to the identity of the CTEWC network.

The choice of presenters and topics reflects a new leadership in ethical reflection on the biggest challenges of our time, and the current reality of our continent. Different ethicists will reflect on the particular circumstances of their country and the particular ways in which Catholic ethics offers possible responses to these challenges.

The challenges for ethics in our continent

One would think that the dizzying process of globalization in which the world turns leaves no time or place for moral reflection or concerns. However, the growing chasm between the well being and wealth enjoyed by the members of prosperous countries and the poverty and suffering of the developing world are grating against human conscience.

On the other hand, development cannot be conceived as merely the process of economic growth. Instead, it must include the integral development of all human beings, “of the whole man and all of humanity.”1, and which will also renew the environment rather tan destroy, encouraging solidarity among people, rather than isolate and marginalize them.

Justice and solidarity must be added to the invisible hand of the market, reconciling development with ethics, overcoming individualism, and laboring for the common good above other kinds of interests.

Therefore, the three pivots presented as current challenges for ethical reflection at the continental level are: Poverty, Inequality, and Exclusion. Concretely, we could propose various dimensions for reflection around these pivots, which can be addressed from the perspective of theological ethics:

  • Rethinking the family. This institution is recognized as a unique pillar of society, ground for personal development, emotional refuge, and the seed of values formation. Of tremendous relevance to the macroeconomic and institutional development of countries, today the family is under serious threat from increasing narcotraffic and poverty, and the proliferation of “a culture of consumption and disposability.”2

New way of being family emerge that do not ‘fit’ known and traditional patterns, and that challenge the Church in its task of integration and welcome. This is also the case with the renewed role of women and the need for respect and the promotion of her dignity and person, a significant ethical challenge in the context of a patriarchal, ‘machista’, and hedonist society.

  • Education as ethical and social capital. Reducing youth poverty and bettering educational levels is an ethical debt. There is too much suffering, exclusion and marginalization of children, youth, and families, which is morally inadmissible. There are great possibilities for the contribution that education can make to reducing inequality. It is a form of social capital, and a formidable resource inherent in societies, which at the same time imbues it with solidarity and ethical values. Highlighting education assumes – in addition to improving academic performance strictly speaking – the need for an encounter between the social and ethical reality and the educational reality.

  • Organized crime and insecurity.One of the most visible and hard costs of poverty is the incessant growth of the crime index, and social instability. In many cases narcotraffic makes use of these conditions to offer youth an easy out to their situation of exclusion, recruiting them as cheap labor force for criminal activity, or turning them into consumers of their products. This last is an escape vehicle in the face of the insurmountable disenfranchisement, in which the power of the state and its ability to rule its own territory is at stake.

  • The need for politics of subsidiarity. If the countries of the region could rely on integral, cohesive, decentralized social policies, constructed alongside civil society, participatory, transparent, and inspired by the principle of subsidiarity3, these could transform into effective means of productive mobilization and social integration. However, that path is complicated by erroneous perceptions about the ethical role of the state, civil society, and the potentialities of social politics.

  • The social and institutional toll of corruption.Resources worth millions are extracted from countries through practices that violate ethics and laws. Corruption is one of the principal channels that multiply inequality and crime. It regressively impacts the composition of public spending, the levels of investment, economic growth, and democratic functioning. However, there seems to be no social condemnation of corruption, which is often seen as ‘collateral damage’ of the process of improving the quality of life, or as a chronic ill – when not a ‘genetic’ one in our societies – without solution, this because of the inaction and complicity of certain public institutional actors.

  • The importance of participation and solidarity.Faced by the myth that devalues the poor and which is fulfilled when their exclusion deepens, an active political possibility emerges which brings power to communities and organizations. Vigorous community participation has been the characteristic of the majority of successful social programs in the region, achieving an ethical legitimacy grounded on participation and solidarity. Ethical values and dimensions shared and internalized constitute new principles for the participation of people and community organizations.

  • An ethical view of globalization.The development of our countries requires investment, technology, and international markets, and all of these are external factors that, in large part, are not under our control. The form part of a process of financial and economic globalization that requires a deep ethical review, as Benedict XVI points out.4

  • Creation as the new focus of the social question. There is an intimate connection between what humanity does and what humanity is. When humanity is degraded, nature is too, just as nature is contaminated, the soul and heart are as well. The environmental crisis is one5, intimately tied to a particular mode of development that is proper to our continent, and that demands an ethical evaluation.

We find ourselves before these challenges with a society that clamors for more democracy and participation, and with an innovative “thirst for ethics”, which can be shaped from the ethical reflection and the social doctrine of the Church.

Therefore, this 2016 Conference does not represent the end of a journey, but rather, a great opportunity to expand reflection and perspectives, deepening communication, form relationships, and establish common projects through which we can face these challenges as prophetic and hopeful sign for the Church.

Merely a month to go to this first continental conference, under the theme “Toward an Ethic of Participation and Hope”, we can already feel that this unprecedented gathering will surely be a date with history.

1Populorum Progressio nº 14 (S.S. Pablo VI).
2Evangelii Gaudium nº 53 (S.S. Francisco).
3Centesimus Annus nº 48 (S.S. San Juan Pablo II).
4Caritas in Veritate nº 9 (S.S. Benedicto XVI).
5Laudato SI nº 63 (S.S. Francisco).