A Discussion on Catholic Social Teaching with Professor Lucia Silecchia of the Columbus School of Law
By Gillian Richards, graduate student of Catholic University’s M.A. in Human Rights.
On October 6th the Masters in Human Rights cohort got to hear from Professor Lucia Silecchia of the Columbus School of Law. For the past thirty years, Professor Silecchia has taught subjects ranging from Catholic Social Teaching to rights of the elderly and the disabled. In addition to teaching at Catholic University’s law school, she serves as the expert to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. In this role, she deals with issues concerning elderly and disability care, as well as ecology with a special focus on forests.
Ms. Silecchia also discussed Catholic Social Teaching and how we should engage with encyclicals by introducing the distinction between moral principles and matters of judgment. In particular, it is sometimes difficult to interpret encyclicals concerning economics or environmental issues—the relevant question is whether such encyclicals should be used to set particular policies, or are simply meant to lay out foundational principles of Church teaching. While principles hold true across all times and places, matters of prudence vary depending on the context and details of a situation. Professor Silecchia provided helpful guidance on such questions, which are indeed pressing for Catholics studying human rights issues.
The notion of stewardship played a prominent role in the conversation, in light of Ms. Silecchia’s work with the UN and Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si. Her defense of stewardship is crucial in the dialogue and debate secular environmentalists, who would reject such a category since it implies dominion or authority. As Ms. Silecchia pointed out, however, without a biblical notion of stewardship we would be left with no justification for the responsibility we have over the environment.