Two Conferences: Two Different Worlds?

In the post below, Peter Steinfels writes about the "More than a Monologue" conference at Fordham. He wonders whether the conference would have been better had it included a representative of official church teaching on same-sex relations-raising the question whether it is actually possible to have a dialogue on neuralgic issues pertaining to sexuality.

I wonder what Peter would say about the conference held under the sponsorship of the bishops' conference on the "New Evangelization," in which tenure track Catholic theologians under the age of 40 were invited to a conference designed to further the partnership between the bishops and theologians in handing on the faith. Here is Michael Sean Winters's report. I think you could say that on ethics at least, it was a mirror-image to the Fordham conference.

Needless to say, it is impossible to cover every topic in a one-day symposium. And many of the talks looked extremely interesting. I note, however, that the only moralist on the program--and indeed, the only woman, was Janet Smith, who has been an indefatigable opponent of contraception for many years now, and an enthusiastic proponent of the "theology of the body."

It's easy to Monday Morning quarterback. And no one, I think, would expect the bishops to make room for voices advocating change in church teaching at a conference they themselves sponsor. At the same time, it would have been possible for the bishops to highlight more fundamental matters. After all, sexual ethics is only one of a number of areas of special topics in ethics that Catholic moralists have to deal with in teaching.

So I guess I wonder why the bishops thought that the" theology of the body" --and the prohibition against artificial contraception is the most important "good news" pertaining to Christian life to communicate to young theologians? What about more foundational topics (say, the relationship between action and virtue in Aquinas, or more scripturally based topics (the Beatitudes or the Magnificat for that matter)? Does not Catholic social teaching merit a mention?

But back to Peter's post--and my question. How, exactly, would a young moral theologian go from the Bishops' conference to the Fordham conference without getting whiplash? Has anyone out there tried it?

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

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