Friday, May 30, 2008
Yesterday was the second day of the gathering of the Conference of Catholic Legal Thought in Seattle. We had three panels: Teaching and our Pastoral Role (led by Amy Uelmen, via video, Greg Kalscheur and myself), Catholic Thought and Legal Theory (led by Patrick Brennan) and Scholarly Career Planning as a Christian (led by Lucia Silecchia, with presentations by Michael Scaperlanda, Lisa Schiltz and John Breen). Just to give you a brief idea of what our day was like:
The first panel was a wide-ranging discussion of how we teach Catrholic Social Thought in the classroom, addressing both seminars devoted to the subject and the introduction of Catholic thought into other classes. In the seminar setting, challenges include how to present CST when students lack formation in Catholic or Christian traditions and teaching, how to approach topics such as abortion, divorce and sexual identity, given that for many students these issues are a personal source of grief and how to deal with the fact that students are reared in an environment that discourages them from thinking in terms of absolute truths and from making absolute value judgments about the behavior of others.
The Legal Theory panel took as its starting point a 1958 article by Anscombe titled Modern Moral Philosophy setting forth Anscomb's position that our usual way of talking about morality presupposes a divine lawgiver who is uniquely competent ot legislate for the entire cosmos, including humans. The question for discussion is whether Anscomb was right that one cannot coherently and truthfully use a moral vocabulary without affirming the existence of a divinity that can and does legislate for us rational creatures? No surprise that there was some difference of opinion on this issue.
In the third panel, John Breen focused on where there are currently gaps in Catholic legal scholarship, suggesting that the crucial issue as we move forward in the project of Catholic Legal Thought is articulating a proper understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. Lisa Schiltz and Michael Scaperlanda each then shared some of their thoughts about the nature of our role as scholars in this tradition.
An important part of the benefit of our time at these gatherings is our time outside of the formal more academic sessions. After enjoying dinner together, the group reconvened in the lovely St. Ignatius chapel on the Seattle U. campus, where Greg Kalscheur invited us into an Ignatian examen, something that has been part of my own daily prayer for at least the last six or seven years, and then presided over Mass with us. It was a wonderful way to end the day.
Our gathering concludes with lunch today (except for those able to stay for an afternoon of fun, which lamentably does not include me). One final note: Part of our aim is to be a resource and a community for those seeking to enter this area of teaching and writing and so it was terrific to see some new faces among our group this year.