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Your mission, if you choose to accept it: A European Project for Catholic Theological Ethics

Three years after the world’s largest ever gathering of theological ethicists in Trento in July 2010, a pan-European group of men and women convened at the Katholische Akademie Berlin, 27-29 June 2013 in order to identify how best to implement Trento’s global vision for Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) on the soil of Europe. The location was significant, for Berlin sits at the heart of Europe at the point where East meets West. A generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, barriers still remain that limit the extent of cooperation between theological ethicists in Eastern and Western Europe. Overcoming these was quickly identified as a key agenda for the region if Catholic theological ethics in Europe is to gain the maximum benefit of breathing with both lungs – to borrow John Paul II’s analogy.

The various national affiliations of the colloquium participants speaks of the centuries of tradition and geographical breadth of engagement in Catholic theological ethics across Europe, and of the rich harvest that could be reaped from more extensive networking and collaboration. Eastern Europe was represented by Slavomir Dlugos (Slovakia), Roman Globokar (Slovenia), Konrad Glombik (Poland), Katica Knezović (Croatia), Jaroslav Lorman (Czech Republic), Zorica Maros (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Petr Stica (Czech Republic), while Philippe Bordeyne (France), Julie Clague (UK), Francois-Xavier Dumortier (Italy), Marianne Heimbach-Steins (Germany), Martin Lintner (Italy), Julio Martínez (Spain), Martin McKeever (Italy), Sigrid Müller (Austria) and Paul Schotsmans (Belgium) represented Western Europe. Also participating were Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator (Kenya) and members of the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church planning committee: Antonio Autiero (Germany), Agnes Brazal (Philippines), Lúcás Chan (China), M.T. Davila (Puerto Rico), Kristin Heyer (USA), Jim Keenan (USA), Elias Omondi Opongo (Kenya), Toni Ross (USA), Andrea Vicini (USA/Italy). Linda Hogan (Ireland) and Miroslav Mroz (Poland) were unable to be present.

The colloquium provided an opportunity to discover more about the particular contexts in which we work and the types of challenge we face as theological ethicists in Europe. How healthy is the discipline of Catholic theological ethics in our region? Where is the field thriving, and why? Where is it vulnerable and what factors threaten its future viability? How can Catholic theological ethics best respond to the changing institutional, ecclesial, demographic and other contexts in which it exists? Finally, how can we secure the sustainability of our subject and best contribute to the future of theological ethics in the European region and the wider world? These questions and more were the subject of discussion, with particular focus on the challenges faced in three specific areas: in teaching and mentoring; in research; and in our varied academic and ecclesial institutional settings. As an aid to the deliberations, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator and Lúcás Chan, in their roles as chairs of the Africa and Asia regional committees of CTEWC, delivered presentations highlighting CTEWC activities and identifying the key development strategies for their respective regions. The establishment of a similar regional coordinating committee for Europe emerged as an urgent priority.

If doctrinal division once characterised the battle-lines of European Christendom, Europe’s culture wars today are based upon moral diversity and disagreement, with legal and political crises arising as a result of conflicting and confused values. The relevance and importance of theological ethics to the Church and society at large has never been more apparent. Yet in both of these contexts, and within the academic setting in which many of us are based, Catholic ethics is often beleaguered and under attack, raising questions about its future role and responsibilities. Until now, however, we have neglected to organise and work collectively to respond to these new and worrying contexts.

The European Project, which emerged in response to the horrors of a disunited and war-torn Europe, promotes a vision of friendship, flourishing, solidarity and cooperation among nations. Catholic theological ethicists across Europe are already contributing to that vision both as individuals and in a variety of institutional contexts. However, a vision of a European grouping of Catholics working in the field of theological ethics has never before taken shape. Our activities have largely been national or linguistically-focused, diffuse in scope and lacking any coordinated strategy to ensure the future health and vitality of the discipline. Given that we are fast approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council, with its call for the renewal of moral theology, and the imminent approach of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the collapse of the Iron Curtain, such an initiative is overdue.