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¡Una ética atrevida!

¡Una ética atrevida!

¡Una ética berraca!

By MT Dávila


May 26-29 marked a key point in the development of the CTEWC network in Latin America. After six years of working toward a viable network of ethicists, the conference Toward an Ethic of Participation and Hope took place at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Bogotá, Colombia. The words above – una ética atrevida and una ética berraca – represent the spirit that I read into what took place. They signify boldness and daring, a way of doing ethics latinamente, in the key of those whose continent and experiences demand a reflection all their own, even while it considers global belonging.


With almost 100 ethicists from over 20 countries we are certainly not talking about a univocity of perspectives. Papers presented during concurrent sessions (over 70!) witnessed to the breadth of scholarly and pastoral concerns that mark the different contexts represented. Discussions regarding bioethics included public health in the Cuban context, sex education in Colombia, and ‘health rights’ in Peru. Discussions regarding Catholic social teaching included topics such as inclusion of indigenous peoples in Paraguay, religious architecture in Mexico, and decolonizing moral theology. Themes on the family, women and sexuality included discussion on homosexuality and the gospel, abortion in Bolivian legislation, women and peacemaking, women’s embodiment and life ethics. But this catalogue is already inadequate at the writing, as the topics varied greatly, representing scholarship and commitments from diverse experiences evaluated through the lens of theological ethics.


However, a few distinct shared features could be identified throughout. Latin American theological ethics is decidedly interdisciplinary. This is not new. Latin American theology and ethics developed at a time when other economic fields were also emerging as properly Latin American, uniquely situated apart from the European fields that had been imported with the conquest of the Americas and the founding of the first universities. In addition, most ethicists present are also practitioners. They are leaders in community action groups for environmental justice, members of hospital and health ministry ethics boards, ministers to prisoners and gang members, midwives and business owners. Doing theological ethics in Latin America is to drink from many wells, to allow the gospel to play with indigenous, popular, and gendered and embodied categories. Doing theological ethics in Latin America attends to particularity as the language through which the universal is considered.


Nowhere was this more evident than in the plenary sessions. Twelve distinct voices framed the discussions throughout the conference. The first established the scaffolding on which the rest of the conference would be built. Two of Latin America’s most prominent ethicists – Alberto Múnera, SJ from the Universidad Javeriana, a key figure in the development of moral theology in Latin America, and Maria Inês de Castro Millen, current president of the Brazilian Society of Moral Theology as well as medical doctor and a key thinker in the field of women’s health and ethics – opened the conference with two essential reference points. First, Múnera brought to the fore Pope Francis’ recovery of the primacy of conscience in theological ethics and the Christian understanding of freedom. He presented these as essential to considering an ethic of participation. Millen focused her presentation on hope as a task of theological ethics and the heart of the Christian message. And yet she challenged those present to understand the complexity of contributing to an ethic of hope where many have lost a vision of the human person grounded in Christian love and as sisters and brothers in Christ due to injustice, indifference, and other social forces impacting life in community and the flourishing of hope among the faithful. The nine plenaries that followed each represented the distinct challenges to theological ethics from Nicaragua, Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Again, the dance between the particular and the global was present as the challenges of gang violence, corruption, misinformation by media, ética de fronteras, the collusion of church authority and the state, difference and inclusion, labor and work, utopias and order, and theological ethics as an emerging field defy the task of ethical reflection in these particular contexts.


María Isabel Gil Espinosa, from the Universidad Javeriana, and the local force that made this gathering possible, closed the conference with a profound reflection on how to develop an ethic of hope in the context of particular and global suffering. Her reflection challenged the Church, especially in its ethics of exclusion, to be a more present and transforming agent of inclusion, from within its ranks and in society in general. Her plenary was a fitting framework to the task that began our “first day of work toward the future”.


I only hope the photos of the conference convey the high energy, solidarity, and collaboration that marked this conference and the work to be done from here on. My task, and indeed the whole of theological ethics, is all the richer for having had this encounter, and committing ourselves to the en conjunto work of future reflection and action.