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Padova: Ten Years Later and …

“Padova: Ten Years Later and …”

Thomas Massaro, S.J. and Mary Jo Iozzio

July 1, 2016


“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52)


Though cryptic in nature (and capping off a head-spinning series of disparate parables on the kingdom), Jesus’ mention of “the new” and “the old” in this verse offers insight into a key dynamic in the development of ethics: how traditions and established practices update themselves to meet the needs of the times. As John Paul II cites this verse in Centesimus Annus (1991) no.3, he commends the continual updating –the new—of the then “old” one hundred years of Catholic social teaching. In light of the modern initiatives of CST, the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council, and the integration of liberation and post-colonial thought across theological fields, the CTEWC engages the treasured wisdom of moral reflection inherited from the past with increasing awareness of the breadth and depth of our shared Catholic faith, ever ancient, ever new.


Padova was the scene of something new in the centuries-old discipline of moral theology. A gathering of more than 400 ethicists –lay and religious, women and men, some of them parents, graduate students to seasoned professors, scholars from around the globe meeting in plenary and break-out sessions—awakened a spirit of listening, of envisioning, and of laboring subsequently in collaborative efforts unparalleled in our discipline. Padova was our aggiornamento, followed by Trento (2010), and continued at regional meetings in Manila (2008), Nairobi (2012), Berlin (2013), Krakow (2014), Bangalore (2012, 2015), and Bogotá (2016).


In addition, Padova provided those present with opportunities to talk –not just about our coursework and individual research niches, but also at the deepest levels. We truly enjoyed the time to forge and to renew lasting friendships. Mentors, former colleagues, and former students regaled accomplishments since their parting; admirers introduced themselves to their research interlocutors; and the women present delighted in their numbers even as more, perhaps many more, could have (and should have) been there. Connections with global reach were made and, as the monthly The FIRST demonstrates, have advanced the network and invigorated our vocations in the Church and world.


In North America, it seemed as if a bolt of grace energized our guild as we proceeded to meet at the annual meetings of the CTSA and SCE, and occasionally even at the AAR. These meetings strengthened the relationships affirmed in Padova as we discovered ways to present Catholic contributions to broader audiences, in particular by bringing scholars from elsewhere in North America and abroad to our respective colleges, universities, and institutional settings to lecture, research, and teach. And these presentations, in turn, inspired many of our undergraduate and masters degree students to commit to doctoral studies in moral theology. (In just the four years between Padova and Trento, for example, 200 more scholars became involved, among them many more women, including some from Africa, others new PhDs and doctoral students, others members of religious orders, and more from Europe as well.) Today, an estimated 1,000 ethicists (with projections of up to 1,200 by year’s end) in the world church subscribe to The FIRST.


The work of CTEWC in these ten years confirms the rich interplay of the old and new. In both content and methodology, the field has become increasingly attentive to holding the tradition in transition, in dialogue and recognizing tensions, honoring diverse approaches in ethics –e.g., virtue, casuistry, natural law, divine command, and biblical ethics. These themes have been renewed and challenged by consideration of developments inconceivable a mere 100 years ago in fields such as bioethics, technology, and political, social, and economic relations. And among many contributions, the growing creativity of theological ethicists is found in wildly diverse platforms –like The FIRST, blogs, YouTube, twitter, Facebook, weekly publications, and academic journals—in response to novel global realities such as radical terrorism, scandalous poverty, and climate change.


In addition, many of us in North America, have become also ever more deliberate in considering research conducted by our colleagues and friends across the globe, and perhaps especially by those working in and/or out of non-western and non-northern contexts. These considerations have led to new ways that we in the west and global north appreciate their work and the challenges that their perspectives present to our presumptions about right and wrong, good and bad, for the common good or … in demonstration of its opposite (their understandings serve also to unsettle any smug sense of superiority any of us may harbor). Similarly, some of us –at Barry University, Boston College, Catholic Theological Union, Fordham University, Loyola University Chicago, Santa Clara University and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley—have enjoyed live video and audio feed “into” three conference meetings of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia since 2011. These opportunities allowed us to cross the boundaries of time and place with the help of technology, as we shared with our students and friends these local projects of Catholic ethicists in the world church. We look forward to these trajectories.


Catholic ethics today draws upon the best of inherited Christian moral reflection, without merely repeating the verities of old. Our moral reflection is at its best when it takes seriously the widest circle of genuine questioning and the broadest contexts of social concern. The resulting synthesis affects not only how we conduct our research and apply our findings; it affects also how moral theology is commonly taught in universities, seminaries, and schools of ministry and how it is ever more widely available and hopefully influential, at least as a resource for ethical inquiry, outside of the confessional and/or spiritual direction, to the interested public. Further, under the supervision of instructors influenced by this current, students today are challenged to master established literature (Scripture, church documents, theology) and to pay close attention to context (at the level of lived reality, including the existential concerns of contemporary persons, and the elements of culture, both formal and informal, as well as interdisciplinary resources). The most fortunate students are mentored by teachers who break down the presumed dichotomy entirely, sharing the key insight that even the tradition’s highly revered ancient and classical texts arose from distinctive contexts, socially situated in a world that may be thoroughly unfamiliar to us, while nevertheless critically relevant to our interpretations of them today.


Like many disciplines, ethics is at its most constructive when practitioners stand back a bit and, instead of rushing to conclusions (which admittedly have their place), make the effort to linger with the questions and refine the most salient lines of inquiry –indeed to savor and even “to love the questions,” with all their attendant open-endedness. Uncertainty should not be construed as a threat, ineptitude, or failure, but as the encouraging promise that lies in the search and hopeful cache of what is true. Both at Padova and Trento and with the now readily available CTEWC network, this wrestling with the tradition(s) in transition is one of the key dynamisms now at work in our field. These plenary meetings, the regional meetings, the CTEWC Book Series, parallel/related publications, and The FIRST demonstrate rather definitively that our work is more about questions and dialogue than answers. While we could be criticized (or even satirized) for prolonged discussion, this open-endedness emerges as perhaps our most distinctive and valuable contribution to our Church and the general public.


In the end, ethics is about relationships. To the extent that Padova and Trento expanded the circle of relationships between and among ethicists of the global reality that is the Catholic Church, not to mention our awareness of relationships with so many other people and the natural world that may have escaped our notice before, they were great successes. Based on the highly encouraging interchanges and descriptions of sundry activities found on the CTEWC website and evidenced in so many subsequent developments on regional levels and collaborations across the regions, these conferences clearly inspired hundreds of ethicists to redouble their efforts to create a more relationally hospitable world for ourselves and our discipline; indeed, this essay demonstrates just one model of collaboration.


For the only recently unimaginable and perfectly welcome network that is the CTEWC, we delight in relationships new and old, we remain in service to the discipline and the Church, and we are most grateful.