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Jesuit’s Vision Leads to Worldwide Network of Moral Theologians

February 21, 2014 — A friendly dinner attended by six moral theologians in Rome gave Jesuit Father James Keenan the idea to establish a worldwide network for teachers of theological ethics.

Fr. Keenan, the Founders Professor in Theology at Boston College, helped establish the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) project over 10 years ago. In 2003, a colleague from Boston College visited Fr. Keenan in Rome while he was a visiting professor at the Gregorian University. Fr. Keenan invited two moral theologians from the Gregorian and two from the Accademia Alfonsiana to join them for dinner.

“I had four theologians, each from a different country, each who had been teaching in Rome for 15 years. Everyone had a great time, and at the end of the meal I asked them how often they got together. They said, ‘We’ve never met one another.’ I took that as an indication that it would be good to get moral theologians to meet one another,” Fr. Keenan explained.

From that idea, Fr. Keenan formed the CTEWC as a way for teachers of theological ethics from all over the world to meet and discuss their work. After much planning, the first-ever international conference of moral theologians was held in 2006 in Padua, Italy, with 400 people from 52 countries in attendance.

Planning for the first conference began in 2003, and it revealed to Fr. Keenan areas where the CTEWC could focus some of its efforts. For instance, Fr. Keenan raised $400,000 to fund the conference, including the attendance of 120 scholars from Africa, Asia and Latin America. He was surprised when the list of theologians from Africa contained only men. Fr. Keenan insisted on adding several women from Africa to the list and three attended.

“We realized three out of 40 was a mighty small proportion.  At Padua, our committee promised the participants that we would find money to support seven women from Africa to do Ph.D.s in theological ethics,” Fr. Keenan said. “We ended up with eight, so now we have eight women in moral theology who weren’t there before.”

When the CTEWC held its next conference in Trent, Italy, in 2010, it had grown to 600 people from 75 countries. The CTEWC provided some funding for 170 attendees from the developing world, as well as for 150 younger scholars from the industrialized world.

After the second conference, the organization decided to expand its focus. The new goals included providing support to moral theologians around the world; hosting regional conferences; publishing a book series; and producing a monthly newsletter and interactive website.

“Network is really our trademark,” said Fr. Keenan. “We don’t see ourselves as a member organization, we see ourselves as members of the network.” He invites all readers to visit their website at www.catholicethics.com.

In addition to Fr. Keenan’s work for the CTEWC and at Boston College, he is writing a book on university ethics and recently finished up a 20-year stint as editor of the book series “Moral Traditions” from Georgetown University Press.


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