The citizens of Trento are no doubt happy to reclaim their city from the 585 moral theologians who invaded it for a giant five-day, three-generation family reunion (the group of us included pre-Vatican II, Vatican II and post-Vatican II moral theologians from 73 countries). I’m sure we gave Trentinos plenty of fodder for any number of “How many theologians does it take to…” jokes. What we left them with pales in comparison to what many of us are taking home. In addition to a hankering for gelato, the ever-versatile “Prego!,” and the warm smiles of the African “cousins” I didn’t know I had, I’ve comprised a list of my Trento takeways. I hope that other folks in the family will add to it.
- Africa rising. Laurenti Megesa and Anne Nasimiya of Hekima College in Kenya noted that as the result of engagement with traditional African religions, the Catholicism in Africa is emerging from the predominantly Western/Tridentine paradigm in which it was formed during colonialization into a dynamic African Catholic Church with much to offer the wider Catholic community. Beneset Bujo, currently at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, advised those of us in the West to engage the inherently communal anthropology that supports African ethics. And we will need to continue to support the growth of moral theology there, as well as in India and Latin America, since these regions will soon be home to 75% of Catholics.
- Attention to racism. Bryan Massingale of Marquette University and Maria Teresa Davila of Andover Newton Theological Seminary called our attention to the seemingly inescapable human tendency to “racialize the other.” This fault that lies at the root of personal and social sin must be a necessary focal point of moral theology in the 21st century.
- No more moral scapegoating. Many of us expressed frustration that the bishops who participated in plenary sessions did not address the impact of the sexual abuse crisis on the Church’s public credibility when it comes to any moral matter. However, Charles Curran of Southern Methodist University, one of two members of the family actually teaching moral theology before Vatican II, dramatically turned the tables on us when he called moral theologians to task for our silence during the decades of sex abuse in the U.S. and Europe. Rather than blame bishops, he encouraged us to accept our vocational responsibility to speak out against injustice and support victims.
- The feminization of moral theology. The inclusion of women into moral theology since Vatican II has dramatically changed the discipline. As Julie Clague from the University of Glasgow put it, “When new members join the club, the club changes.” And yet, as Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Trinity Theological Seminary in Geneva noted in the opening plenary, Catholicism, like many other religions on the planet, continues to undermine the agency of women. We will need to think creatively about how to do more than simply give women a voice in Catholic moral theology.
- Fear and hope. Bishop Kevin Dowling of Johannesburg, South Africa prophetically observed that fear remains a significant obstacle to meaningful social change, both within the Church and in the global community. Panels and presentations surfaced these fears: fear of indigenous religions, fear of gender and emotions, fear of acknowledging the extent of moral failure, fear of reprisals from the hierarchy, fear that the discipline will fragment into cultural-specific contexts or issue-specific silos, fear that the forces of globalization cannot be resisted. In the end, the future of moral theology needs to be about hope, since most sensed that this is the tradition’s best antidote to fear.
The final session of our gathering considered the future of this collective body. For now, a leadership team will be formed to consider various possibilities for regional meetings and an international on-line network. There’s also talk about another international gathering to mark the 50th anniversaries of Gaudium et Spes or Humanae Vitae in 2015 or 2018. If the family fun in Trento is any indicator (check out the montage that captures the spirit of the conference), that will be a reunion we won’t want to miss.