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When Catholic Theological Ethicists get together, we talk about matters that others do not think should be discussed: condoms, needle-exchanges, sex workers and brothels, unions, global warming, terrorism, human rights, sex change operations, stem cells, sexual abuse, pedophilia, sale of human organs, clean water, health-care, rape, pre-natal healthcare, HPV, HIV, transgender persons, women in the church (from altar girls to cardinals), human trafficking, abortion, female circumcision, political corruption, warfare, nuclear weapons, trade talks, migration, sexual pleasure, transhumanism, violations of conscience, refugees, sanctuaries, border-crossing, world hunger, gun control, cyborgs, etc.

Why are we often talking about matters that others prefer not to talk about?  Why do we keep bringing up these matters?  Why are we always writing about matters that others would prefer we didn’t?  Is it because we want to be provocative? 

Usually, that is not the case.  I think each of us believes that we need to talk and write about these matters because maybe no one else will.  I remember being in Rome during the peak of the US sexual abuse crisis and a Boston reporter asked me, Are you not afraid to speak out.  I said, Of course I am, but as a priest who teaches theological ethics in Boston, I cannot very well remain silent.

I think many times we are very nervous about our conversations and our writings.  And, many of us know personally what it is to have a lecture cancelled, a position misinterpreted, a book condemned, an invitation withdrawn, our own teaching position threatened or taken away.  But each of us has been so touched by the command to love God, neighbor, and self that we often look out at the world and the church and we see what is there and what is not.  And when we see human suffering we have to respond to it. 

Our Logo shows the world and the church (the rosetta window from the Cathedral of Trento).  Neither shines or depends on the other.  They are both there on the horizon.  When we see the two of them together, we see the cross emerging.  As we look at the cross, we catch there a glimpse of human suffering. 

Motivated by love, we can see suffering in the world and in the church.  We are led by faith and hope to respond.  We believe that this is our vocation.

James F. Keenan, SJ

Co-Chair of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church
Founders Professor of Theological Ethics - Boston College

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