Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Fifth Anniversary

On September 28, 2004, the Center celebrated its fifth anniversary with a lecture and panel discussion. The lecture, given by Cardinal Avery Dulles of Fordham University, focused on “Some Challenges of Contemporary Culture to the Catholic Church.” Before an auditorium packed with undergraduates and others in the university community, Cardinal Dulles reflected on some of the cultural values in contemporary American society that at times confl ict with Christ’s teachings in the Gospel. He cautioned that overemphasis on liberty and equality can distort these values. Th e popular conception of “liberty” often sets God as an enemy from whom one must escape in order to do whatever one feels. Th e Cardinal reiterated that “the Church has a mission to explain how "the truth and grace of Jesus Christ serve to set us free.”

He also remarked on recent technological advances which have led to new ethical issues, not only in areas such as biology and medicine, but also in the way we view everyday life. American emphasis on utility and pragmatism contributes to the desire for profits, pleasure, health and convenience, leaving no place for suff ering, whereas for Christians, suffering is valuable and redemptive when united to the suffering of Christ. He then called on Christians to educate themselves about new technologies and make use of them where appropriate, particularly in the media and entertainment industries which reach a wide audience. Catholics, he said, could be a positive force in making media outlets less concerned with their bottom line and more concerned with serving others, especially the poor.

Later that evening, the celebration continued with a panel discussion considering the day’s theme: “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Ethical Refl ection in a Changing Cultural Landscape.” Th e panel featured Cardinal Dulles, Prof. Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame’s philosophy department, and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, MD, professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics at Georgetown University. Prof. McInerny began the discussion by speaking about the family. He observed that though the cultural landscape is always changing, it is important to recognize that it is shared with others, rather than being defined relative to each individual. Therefore, he highlighted the importance of building up families, since “the way to a civic common good passes through the family.” Dr. Pellegrino picked up on this point in his remarks, criticizing the overemphasis on autonomy in modern American culture. He focused mainly on bioethics, noting that it is a place where our culture often must make decisions and distinctions about its own values. Th e language used in bioethics is often indicative of a larger problem; for instance, people talk about “confl ict resolution” rather than “moral analysis” of a problem. Dr. Pellegrino closed by urging Catholics in universities to devote their resources to research in the biological sciences, particularly in such areas as adult stem-cell research that could help off set the need for morally compromised embryonic stem-cell research. When he had concluded, Dr. Pellegrino and the other two panelists fi elded questions from the audience for about half an hour. It was a fruitful and festive day, and we thank the speakers and all who attended for coming out to mark the Center’s anniversary.