Annual Meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics—New Orleans

Happy New Year!  Every year I post the program of the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics,which meets annually in conjunction with the Society of Jewish Ethics and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics. This year's meeting is in New Orleans. The focal topic, but by no means the only topic, is complicity.

The SCE is now very ecumenical—Catholics are a signficant and imporant part of the membership—but only a part. I know many Catholic ethicists who go to the SCE/SJE/SSME meetings to see what ethicists from other religious traditions are thinking in January, and then in June go to the Catholic Theological Society of America to find out what is going on in other branches of Catholic theology.

In the 1960's, however, the SCE was mainly an association of Protestant seminary professors. Roman Catholic moralists began to join after the Second Vatican Council--as a concrete aspect of aggiornamento. They began reading Protestants, and vice versa. As I have heard it told, Charlie Curran and Richard McCormick started going to the SCE as young priests in the 1960's—when it was still held in a seminary dorm over winter break. As the evenings wore on, they began looking for a drink and a good conversation—not hard to find at the CTSA, but not the easiest to locate in this setting of Protestant ministers, many of whom didn't drink. But they soon found out that Paul Ramsey had a good bottle of scotch and was hosting a salon of sorts in his room. They wandered by. They immersed  themselves in ideas, talking and arguing about questions in special ethics and fundamental matters of moral theology. They managed to disagree about all sorts of things while becoming close friends. And if you look at Ramsey's, McCormick's, and Curran's writings, their intellectual horizons were clearly broadened by these conversations. They cited each other, learned from each other, and engaged each other. It was a model of Christian intellectual life, in my view.

This year, Charlie Curran is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Christian Ethics. (See page 13 of the program for the citation). It is richly deserved. After the controversy with Catholic University of America, Charlie moved out West, eventually settling into a distinguished chair at SMU, where he continued to produce important mongraphs at an unbelievable and enviable rate. Notwithstanding his accomplishments, Charlie is one of the kindest and least pretentious persons in the field—never hesitating to help a younger scholar, or to help anyone, really.

My favorite Charlie story is from an international conference of Catholic moral theologians organized by Jim Keenan  that took place in 2010 in Trent, Italy. My father came with me—we landed in Munich and then took the train down to Trent through the Brenner Pass. But then I had a conference to go to, including a dinner of women moral theologians that my dad couldn't attend. So he was on his own that evening--and he doesn't speak Italian. I met him later at the hotel and asked him how he fared. My dad sad he had a great time—after I left, a really nice guy had come along, said he was a friend of mine, and knew that I had another dinner. The man invited my dad to go to dinner with his group. I asked him the guy's name. He said, "Charlie. Charlie Curran." I said, "Dad—you were just hanging out with one of the most important figures in twentieth century Christian ethics—he's a legend." My dad said, "Yes—well, he's a really good man—and that's what's important."  

Congratulations, Charlie! And my dad wants to buy you a drink in 2018 at the Sarajevo conference!

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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