Professor Robert George Addresses Human Rights in Conversation with Program Director William Saunders During Kickoff Event

More than 80 students, faculty, and members of the local community gathered for a discussion of human rights and religious liberty with Robert George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at The Catholic University of America’s Heritage Hall.

The discussion, which was hosted by the Institute for Human Ecology, was held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The lecture also marked the opening of a new Center for the Study of Human Rights at Catholic University, along with an interdisciplinary degree, a Master of Arts in Human Rights.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, George answered questions from William Saunders, an IHE fellow who serves as director of the master’s program and the Center for the study of Human Rights in the School of Arts and Sciences.

George, who is a member of the Center’s advisory council, began the conversation by discussing the positive influence the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has had on the world since it was issued on Dec. 10, 1948, as a response to the horrific violence seen during the two World Wars.

He called the declaration “an extraordinary achievement” that brought together people from many different faiths and backgrounds to “make a profound statement of the dignity of the human person … and an affirmation of the rights that human beings have, not in virtue of any special strengths — beauty, intelligence, social standing — but simply in virtue of their humanity.”

Though he noted that the document is “not self-executing,” George said that it “gives civil society an instrument in the name of which to demand of repressive governments and offending regimes respect for the dignity of the human person and his rights.”

Continuing the conversation, Saunders and George discussed how the declaration — in Saunders’ words — is “not a perfect document.” Among the dangers of the declaration, the two professors noted, is how easily its language can be used to promote specific ideologies.

“Whenever the rhetoric of a good thing becomes the dominant rhetoric, then people are going to seize upon that rhetoric to advance whatever agenda, whatever ideology they have,” said George. “People will try to win at ideological battles, advance their agendas whatever they are, with the language of human rights. So they’ll inflate claims, whatever they desire, and treat it not as a desire, a want, a feeling, a passion, but a human right.

“We lose our sense of the power and importance of the fundamental rights because of the inflation that happens when you conflate whatever it is you desire, whatever is on your agenda, with rights,” George said.

Saunders and George also spoke about the many responsibilities that go along with human rights, and the differences between positive and negative rights, and how the idea of religious freedom ties in with the declaration of human rights.

At the beginning of the night’s event, George spoke highly of Catholic University’s new Center for the Study of Human Rights, which seeks to bring the Catholic perspective to bear on the discussion and understanding of human rights. The master’s program, which is accepting students now, will begin officially in Fall 2019.

“I think this institution will really bring something new to the table,” George said. “That is an understanding of human rights rooted in the deep tradition of thought that takes us back to Athens and to Jerusalem, an approach to human rights that really anchors human rights in the truth about the human person and the flourishing of the human person. … We need that kind of deep understanding.”

In his introductory statements, Moral Theology Professor Joseph Capizzi, executive director of the Institute for Human Ecology, spoke about the new center and master’s program. He said the program is unique because it “draws on the interdisciplinary strength of this University and also the Catholic intellectual tradition.” Aaron Dominguez, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, also gave introductory remarks welcoming the establishment of the Center and of the master of arts degree.

For more information about the new master’s program in human rights, please contact William Saunders, Program Director at

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on October 1, 2018. Watch the video from the event here.

Photos by Deirdre McQuade/DMcQuade Studios.

Heroines of Ordinary Times

by Lucia A. Silecchia

Since March began, Women’s History Month has highlighted famous women and their places in our collective history. However, the private histories of our families hold countless ordinary women who lived extraordinary, but hidden, lives of faith, hope and love. Women’s History Month is much impoverished if we let it pass without honoring the ordinary women in our own families.

I am blessed to have such women in my own family tree. History does not know them, but through family stories I do. Two beautiful biographies come to mind:

My great grandmother was born in southern Italy’s bucolic hills. When I visit her homeland, it seems like paradise. But, rural life was difficult in nineteenth century paradise. So, she watched her husband leave Italy’s shores to see if the United States held more promise for their growing family. Determining it would, he sent word back to her. I am told that she endured a long transatlantic voyage with toddler boys before arriving in New York the same winter as the notorious Blizzard of ’88. I often wonder what went through the heart of this young woman from the tropical Mediterranean, as a blizzard engulfed her new hometown. She never again saw the family or country she left behind. She delivered twelve children into the world, but only six of them survived infancy. Her husband died in the winter of 1902, leaving her the single mother of six in a country whose language and customs were still new to her.

Yet, her home became a much-loved gathering place and her life a bridge between the old world and the new. She lived to see her children’s children thrive. She was the matriarch of her large family through World War One and the Great Depression, passing from this life in the midst of World War Two. She lived a courageous life lost to history but filled with faith, hope, and love – the same faith, hope and love of so many women who, through the ages, have held the world together.

Her youngest child was another remarkable woman and my maternal grandmother. Born in New York in 1902, she never knew the father who died right after her birth. American women could not yet vote and their opportunities were limited. Yet, my grandmother graduated high school, leaving behind notebooks that reveal a meticulous student with handwriting and mathematical skills that I envy. Serious photographs of her during high school Shakespearean plays show a surprising dramatic flair. She worked at a department store to help support her family and married a dashing Italian mechanic with a pompadour and a motorcycle. She welcomed two daughters just as the country plummeted into the Great Depression that devastated her family. Her meticulous budgets for those years survive, tabulating all her family’s income and the minutest of their expenditures. Long before Airbnb, my grandmother took guests into her home during the 1939 World’s Fair to help pay her mortgage and feed her family. She guided my mother through college, graduate school, marriage, and motherhood – making sure her younger daughter’s dreams knew no limits.

But her greatest legacy was her love for her older daughter – a beautiful firstborn with bright eyes, dark curls, and a crushing brain injury during her birth. My grandmother devoted herself wholeheartedly to this daughter’s care, knowing that love often demands giving away one’s life for another. She sewed her beautiful dresses and gave her Christmas presents. Family photographs always show my grandmother next to this beloved daughter, feeding her patiently from the same good china as everyone else. With the exception of one road trip, my grandmother likely never again traveled more than fifty miles from her home; love for her daughter was her world. “Mama” was the only word I ever heard my aunt say. This was the heartfelt, more-than-eloquent tribute to my grandmother, another unknown woman who lived her life with faith, hope and love – the same faith, hope and love of so many women who, through the ages, have held the world together.

These brief portraits capture only two of the good, holy women whose lives are intertwined with mine. I pray that women such as these have also blessed yours. Their lives, like those of so many women, will go unknown and uncelebrated this month – if we let that happen. But, maybe we owe them more. It is women such as these who are the heroines of ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple.

Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) Endorses MA in Human Rights Program


by Dr. Pat Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative

In my estimation the strategic project of the next century (100 years) is the movement of fathers taking unto themselves alone, the sexual formation of their sons, resulting in sons capable of being great husbands and fathers. However, I predict that those interested in a totalitarian state (the socialist state) as well as radical-core feminists (and there is a significant overlap) will oppose this movement with merciless pursuit, for, if it spreads, it takes away from them their most powerful tool — “sex gone wild”.

In the forthcoming square-off fathers, who do have the inherent right to direct the education of their children, we will need the back-stop of law. Luckily this right is recognized in the United Nations Human Rights Treaties and Declarations of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The world’s reflection on what had gone wrong during and leading up to World War I and World War II led to the founding of the United Nations and with its hope that such horrors would not happen again, and to that end issued the Human Rights documents.

But with rampant individualism coupled with ignorance of the nature of good government, “Human Rights” discourse, today, is a double-edged sword even among — especially among — educated Westerners, most of whom cannot articulate the nature of human rights and as a result are increasing easy prey for “false rights.”

Read more here.

For more information about the new master’s program in human rights, please contact William Saunders, Program Director at

This article was originally published in Faith and Family Findings on February 23, 2019.

IHE Fellow Recognized For Book On Aquinas And The Economy

Dr. Mary Hirschfeld, IHE Fellow and Associate Professor of Economics and Theology at Villanova University, recently received recognition for her book Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy, published in 2018.

The book was awarded the Economy & Society International Award, presented by the Fondazione Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice. From the Foundation’s website: “The prize is awarded to a work which stands out for its original contribution to in depth study and implementation of the Social Doctrine of the Church, is of proven doctrinal soundness, and exceptional quality.”

Dr. Hirschfeld holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. Her integrated research marrying the two fields provides critical insights into the future of our global economy. The publisher describes Aquinas and the Market:

“In a Thomistic approach, she writes, ethics and economics cannot be reconciled if we begin with narrow questions about fair wages or the acceptability of usury. Rather, we must begin with an understanding of how economic life serves human happiness.”

Dr. Hirschfeld’s work leads toward a more humane economy by showing us that, just as people are multi-faceted, so are areas of study. Her writing demonstrates that a society fit to remain siloed is increasingly outdated, and that steps must be made toward a more integrated marketplace.

Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Human Economy can be purchased on Amazon.

The Humanity of Espionage

Is it possible to consider human dignity in a field that includes manipulation and deceit? What moral obligations are involved in a life of espionage?

Those were the questions up for discussion during a recent event, “The Humanity of Espionage.” The panel discussion, which included four former CIA spy handlers, was held on Feb. 28 at The Catholic University of America.

[Watch the video from the event here.]

Event moderator Nicholas Dujmovic, assistant professor and director of the University’s Intelligence Studies Program, previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for 26 years. He began the night’s discussion by defining espionage as the collection of national security intelligence through human means, in which a U.S. case officer, or handler, is passed information from a foreign national, or spy.

“At its core, espionage always involves a relationship,” Dujmovic said.

Dujmovic was joined during the evening by John Bennett, a former director of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA; Juan Cruz, a former career CIA operations and case officer; Gil Kindelan, a retired case officer with 34 years of government service in the US Army and the CIA; and Scotty Skotzko, who served 40 years as a CIA operations officer with eight oversea postings.

The discussion was the fourth in a series of events cosponsored by the Intelligence Studies Program and the University’s Institute for Human Ecology. Dujmovic said the night’s purpose was to explain how a life in intelligence really works and how it can affect those in the field.

The four case officers began the discussion by sharing how they viewed their work. Skotzko compared working as a case officer to being “a professional opportunist,” who is skilled at “establishing relationships and looking for converging interests.”

For him, the process of building relationships with potential spies, is “a process of helping them find purpose in doing what you want them to do.”

Bennett said the job involved three stages: deception, manipulation, and corruption. At the heart of espionage, he continued, is always a paradox: “This relationship formed on the basis of deception has to be a relationship of absolute trust both ways.”

Cruz described his case officer work as a privilege, and compared the relationship formed between a spy and his handler to “a covenant, not unlike marriage.”

“It’s a bond forged in hardships and risks, for a greater good,” Cruz said. “A good case officer is a teacher,  a student, a father, a shoulder to cry on, an amateur psychologist, a confessor, and if you’re lucky, a friend.”

As the night continued, the men discussed the challenges of recruiting new informants and later terminating those relationships in a way that is safe for both parties.

“Finding the right timing for recruitment is actually really tough, it’s not something like flipping a coin,” said Cruz. “It’s the same thing with termination. It must be done as professionally and carefully as possible. And you should always know how it’s going to go.”

Bennet said it is important to know a spy’s motivations. While some are giving information because it’s the right thing to do, others do it for “simply transactional” reasons, or as a way to inflict harm on a regime.

The men also talked about the moral “red lines” intelligence officers should never cross, which included acts of intimacy, lethal force, and blackmail.

At the end of the conversation, the former case officers shared regrets and discussed their personal experiences losing assets and colleagues.

“At every phase of my career, I have lost colleagues along the way,” said Bennet. “We never forget them and it never gets easier.”


This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on March 6, 2018. Watch the video from the event here.

The Prayer of Ordinary Times

By IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D.

Can a lazy lack of creativity ever be good for the soul? I would normally answer “no” – except for Lent when I was 19 years old.

That was a Lent I intended to take more seriously than I had before. A growing realization that adulthood had dawned led me to reflect more thoughtfully on that sacred season. Even then, I understood that in the wisdom of the Church calendar, forty days is a perfect length of time for a season of preparation. It is short enough that a commitment to something ambitious is less frightening than it might otherwise be – yet long enough that a new practice or habit has a chance of becoming a more permanent part of life.

Nevertheless, in spite of my good intentions, when the Sunday before that Ash Wednesday rolled around, I had not yet decided what I could do so that my 19th Lent might be the season I hoped it would be. There were three days left, and nothing of note had crossed my mind. Fortunately for me, that Sunday I was blessed with a homily that changed my life. It was filled with practical suggestions about Lenten practices. One that caught my ear was the simple, obvious invitation to attend Mass during the week. I had rarely given that any thought. Unless it was a special occasion, I was on the Sunday plan. But, to my practical mind, this was a do-able Lenten initiative. I walked past my parish church every morning on the way to my college classes. The three Masses celebrated every day meant an early wake-up was not required. It was merely a half-hour time commitment. Most importantly, although I did not know the exact words of the Catechism at the time, I knew in my heart that Mass was “heart and summit of the Church’s life.”

Thus, for want of another plan, I very casually began a practice that has lasted, with varying degrees of regularity, to this day — decades after that long ago Lent drew to a close. I found that I had begun to treasure this daily celebration, secure in the happy knowledge that around the world in tiny remote chapels, grand urban cathedrals, crumbling city churches, secluded mountain monasteries, far-flung military bases, parochial school auditoriums, and quiet convents, countless others were doing the same. A weekday morning Mass is the Eucharist at its simplest. Without distractions, it is a quiet, intimate start to the day and a cherished oasis before the hectic pace of life begins anew.

I love a grand liturgical celebration. Whether it is celebrated with an enthusiastic student choir, or majestic organ music shrouded with incense, or, yes, even the felt banners and tambourines of my childhood years, such celebrations fill the heart with awe. A large Sunday crowd gathered to praise the same God together is a beautiful reminder that we are all part of the family of God. A stirring Sunday homily, carefully planned, and an altar reverently adorned with flowers all point the way to God in a powerful celebration. The sometimes-too-rare moments of silence in a large Sunday crowd offer a chance to offer praise, petitions, apologies and thanks in the company of an extended parish family.

Yet, when I have the wisdom to make time for it, I also treasure those quiet celebrations during the week when two or three or more of us gather in God’s name, bringing Him the hopes, happiness, worries and woes of the day and receiving far more in return. I am grateful for that chance suggestion years ago that introduced me to the sacredness of the simple, daily Mass. It is the beautiful prayer of ordinary times.

IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D. is a professor of law, and director of the Summer Law Program in Rome at The Catholic University of America. Her expertise is in environmental law and ethics, Catholic social thought & law, and Catholic higher education.

Catholic Leaders Gather In Rome To Discuss Continuing Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

by Tom Gjelten 

Catholic leaders from around the world [convened in Rome] to discuss the continuing clergy sexual abuse crisis. Abuse survivors say they’re not hopeful meaningful change will come from it.


Pope Francis has summoned bishops from around the world to the Vatican this week to talk about clergy sex abuse. They’ll consider priests who abused children, bishops who cover up for them and how the Catholic Church should address these problems. This is the first summit of its kind. But as NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports, it may leave Catholics in the U.S. disappointed.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It was clear in the U.S. before it was in other countries that abusive priests are everywhere. And though church leaders here have been notoriously slow in responding to the crisis, at least they came up with some plan to deal with it. It wasn’t very ambitious, and it would have been hard to enforce under church law. Even so, the U.S. bishops were not happy when their reforms were blocked by Pope Francis.

Read more here.

Originally published on 19 February 2019 at National Public Radio.

Behind Ted McCarrick’s fall: the wrong kind of ‘openness’

by Chad Pecknold

The Roman Catholic Church is sometimes viewed as an impenetrable fortress. To many liberals, that’s exactly the problem.

The church, they think, needs to come of age, modernize its teachings and ­accommodate ­itself to the sexual revolution that has been roiling the West since the 1960s.

Yet those who want a church “open to the world” must face an inconvenient truth: Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick championed just this kind for openness. And this emblem of openness, this man who caused so much pain to underage boys and young seminarians under his authority, will be laicized, likely Saturday.

Read more here.

Originally published on 14 February 2019 at the New York Post.

Cardinal DiNardo aims for ‘new ecclesial season’ to confront crisis

by Greg Erlandson 

In the midst of the current crisis in our church — with a once-admired cardinal accused of heinous acts, bishops widely judged incapable of policing themselves, investigators poring through church archives and ordinary Catholics in fits of anger and despair — Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, asked a very brave question recently. Where might the Holy Spirit be leading us? What possible good could the Spirit bring forth from all this darkness and despair?

Cardinal DiNardo reflected on this question in a talk at The Catholic University of America Feb. 6. The occasion was a conference called “Healing the Breach of Trust.” It is part of an initiative by the university to reflect on the lessons learned in the most recent iteration of the sexual abuse crisis, with a special focus on the role of laity.

Cardinal DiNardo said the current crisis is being used by the Spirit “to open the church — sometimes with great force — to a fuller understanding of ecclesiology,” that is, the structure of the church, “that began over a half century ago.”

Read more here.

Originally published on 16 February 2019 at The Dialog. 

As the EU Loses Steam, NATO Gains In Importance

by Jakub Grygiel

Many in Europe seem to fret over the solidity of the American commitment to their continent. Every personnel move in the current administration, every tweet and interview, and every rumor is analyzed for signs of a weakening of U.S. security guarantees, and thus of NATO. In itself, such a daily agonizing in European capitals is a symptom of a deep insecurity born out of weakness. An insecurity that is not easily assuaged even by facts on the ground—the continued and increased U.S. military presence in Europe, the money and resources expended by Washington on Europe’s security, the discussions on the need to adjust the basing structure in the continent in order to reflect current security needs, the willingness of Washington to impose costs on the main threats to Europe (Russia, Iran, and increasingly, China). It seems that regardless of what the U.S. does, it will have to prove constantly its devotion to Europe’s security.

European fears of a dramatic U.S. retreat from Europe are not justified. The U.S. is not abandoning Europe and its allies. And NATO is here to stay with the United States at its foundation.

By origins, geopolitical necessity, and design, the United States remains a European power. These three features are deeply ingrained in American grand strategy and, arguably, some have been strengthened by the current administration in Washington.

Read more here.

Originally published on 30 January 2019 at The American Interest.

Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D. is associate professor at The Catholic University of America.

The EU Can’t Fulfill Its Purpose

by Jakub Grygiel

The EU has outlived its purpose as an ordering force in Europe. It is incapable of addressing the historical challenge facing the West: its rising geopolitical competition with revisionist powers. It failed to radiate security on its frontiers to the east and south. And it has proven too weak to keep in check the unilateral policies of its largest member, Germany. In brief, the EU cannot compete, cannot secure its borders, and cannot keep Europe’s balance.

While the U.S. has finally awakened to the necessity of competing with rival great powers such as China and Russia, the EU is stuck in a post-modern daze. In that worldview, the main threats are not to the wellbeing of a polity but to what is seen as a higher purpose of international politics: multilateralism. As Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for foreign policy, affirmed in a September 2018 speech, the “priority of our work will be to strengthen a global network of partnerships for multilateralism.” (my emphasis) Multilateralism is the foreign policy goal, not just a means; process trumps outcomes.

Such confusion of goals and means is understandable, perhaps. EU members rarely agree on foreign policy, leaving ambitious EU politicians with little to do except to push for process and more process. Multilateralism—endless paeans to dialogue and understanding—thus becomes the objective that few oppose because at first sight it does not appear to be noxious. What can be so bad about a slew of meetings in Geneva or Paris among global partners working to enhance multilateralism?

Read more here.

Originally published on 30 December 2018 at the The American Interest.

Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D. is associate professor at The Catholic University of America.

The Role of the Laity in Healing the Church

The Role of the Laity in Responding to the Crisis: Theological and Historical Foundations

What is the role of the laity in healing the Church after the sex abuse crisis? That was the topic at the heart of a recent conference, “Healing the Breach of Trust,” held at The Catholic University of America on Feb. 6. Throughout the day, prominent clergy, historians, theologians, and canon lawyers joined to discuss the theological and historical grounds for lay involvement in the Church as part of a solution to the current sex abuse crisis.

The day began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and opening remarks by him and University President John Garvey.

During his comments, DiNardo reflected on Pope Francis’s recent letter to U.S. bishops, which called for a “new ecclesial season” in which bishops can “teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of his people, and not [be] mere administrators.”

Introductory address by President John Garvey and Cardinal DiNardo:


The new ecclesial season, DiNardo suggested, will require not only new approaches to management and the way bishops exercise authority, but also a renewed call to holiness for all Catholics.

“A new ecclesial season has to be one where the shepherds recognize more fully the charisms of the laity and encourage the exercise of those gifts for the good of the Church,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “This would be a sharing of the duties of administration that would allow the bishops to attend more to their preaching and sanctifying roles, and to pastorally accompany their people more. It will also allow the laity to more fully live out their own calling to be priest, prophet, and king — imitating Christ as befitting their dignity.”

Making these changes, DiNardo added, will require great humility and an examination of “how there has been an alienation from the fundamental mission of the organization.”

“In the Church, that means looking for how far we may have strayed from the calling of Christ when he founded his Church,” he said. “No one can doubt, that in many ways, this crisis has developed because some of the leaders of the Church placed the safety of the institution over that of its members.”

University President John Garvey shared his belief that the crisis is, at part, a result of episcopal mismanagement, resulting from “the isolation of bishops from others who might advise them and check their mistakes.”

Rather than relying on bishops alone to make important decisions about how to fix the wounds caused by the abuse crisis, he said, the Church should rely on the gifts and talents of lay men and women, while invoking the “wisdom of the crowd.”

Morning Session:


“Bishops are no better endowed with wisdom than other CEOs,” Garvey said. “In making decisions about diocesan finances they need to rely on accountants and financial advisors. In judging the harm caused by sex offenders they should take the advice of parents. In managing the risk posed by sex offenders, they would be foolish to ignore the advice of lawyers.”

While there should be a place for systematic changes like the additions of lay review boards within the Church, Garvey also believes there should be a shift in perspective. Instead of thinking of the relationship between a bishop and his people as a kind of governmental bureaucracy, he suggested Catholics should think of it as a marriage.

“Bishops must be transparent and accountable to their flocks, the members of their dioceses, as husbands and wives must be transparent and accountable to one another,” Garvey said. “Talking about authority in this relationship is a kind of category response. We are obliged to one another, if I can put it that way, out of love. If we fail in our duty of honesty, it will degrade our love.”

Afternoon Session:


The rest of the day featured discussions about the the role of the laity, as informed by history and theological writings. Bronwen McShea, associate research scholar, Princeton University; and Carlos Eire, T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University, provided historical context for the ways the laity has yielded power in the Church throughout history.

From a theological perspective, Sister Nancy Bauer, O.S.B., professor of canon law at Catholic University, spoke about the rights and responsibilities for lay people as laid out in the Code of Canon Law. Christopher Ruddy, associate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University, referred to teachings about the laity resulting from the Vatican II Council, and Michael Root, professor of systematic theology at Catholic University, explained how lay people are called to exercise the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, within the Church.

This conference was the first of three “Healing the Breach of Trust” events scheduled to take place at Catholic University this year. They follow a panel discussion held in November, which featured a panel of high-profile religion journalists from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Catholic News Agency, and Crux.

Upcoming conferences, to be held March 26 and April 25, will address the root causes of the current crisis, and principles for effective lay action. For more information on these events, visit

Panel Discussion:


This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on February 11, 2019.

Photos by Deirdre McQuade/DMcQuade Studios.

Snapshots of Ordinary Time

By IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D.

In recent days, a quirky fad has gone viral: The “Ten Year Challenge.” Thousands of people, from celebrities to those unknown, are posting current photographs of themselves on social media next to their photos from a decade past. In part, this is entertainment and a chance to see – with pleasure or dismay – the ways in which a decade of life has wrought changes reflected in the faces looking back from the screen. It is an invitation to smirk at questionable fashion choices from 2009 or silently gloat if a recent picture looks better than the old one.

Beyond mere entertainment, though, the sudden burst of interest in the “Ten Year Challenge” says something fascinating about human nature. Looking at old photographs connects us to our past: who we were, who we are, and all that lies between. Juxtaposing an old photo with a new one says a lot about the face in the picture. The look on a face, aged by ten years, can speak to the ways in which a decade has been kind or how time’s trials can make that same face seem wearier than the calendar says it should.

The “Ten Year Challenge” craze is likely to disappear as quickly as it roared into social media. But our fascination with images captured in photographs is here to stay. Indeed, when asked to name their most treasured possessions, so many answer that it is the family photographs that capture their most special moments – the sonogram announcing to the world that the miracle of life is renewed again; wedding photographs that record the joy of love promised; anniversary photographs that show the joy of love lived; and photographs of baptisms, First Communions and confirmations that harken back to those special moments that cleanse, nourish and strengthen the soul.

Read the rest of the article here.

Originally published on 31 January 2019 at the The Catholic Messenger.

IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D. is a professor of law, and director of the Summer Law Program in Rome at The Catholic University of America. Her expertise is in environmental law and ethics, Catholic social thought & law, and Catholic higher education.

Welcome to Ordinary Time!

By IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D.

“Ordinary time.” This is a season of the year – and season of life — that is deeply, drearily underrated.

As a child, I dreaded the days after Christmas. Trees were dragged to the curb with faded tinsel hinting of glories just passed. The longest vacation of the school year gave way to cold, holiday-deprived Januaries. Beloved Christmas music abruptly left the airwaves. Easter joy, summer road trips, 4th of July celebrations, and the springtime panoply of graduations, First Communions, Confirmations, family birthdays and weddings all seemed so far away.

To make matters worse, this new season bears what looks like the blandest of names: “ordinary time.” Such a mundane, plain word is the moniker attached to most of the year – and most of our lives.

Read the rest of the article here.

Originally published on 18 January 2019 at the The Catholic Free Press.

IHE Fellow Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D. is a professor of law, and director of the Summer Law Program in Rome at The Catholic University of America. Her expertise is in environmental law and ethics, Catholic social thought & law, and Catholic higher education.

St. Joseph: <br>The Silent Guardian

“Go to Joseph: and do all that he shall say to you.” (Genesis 41:55)

The Institute for Human Ecology invokes Saint Joseph as its patron saint. March 19 is the primary feast day in the Latin Rite for Saint Joseph. And so, the Catholic Church has traditionally spotlighted the Foster Father of Jesus Christ during this third month of the year.

Pope Leo XIII underlined in his encyclical, Quamquam Pluries, that “the Joseph of ancient times, son of the patriarch Jacob, was the type of Saint Joseph, and the former by his glory prefigured the greatness of the future guardian of the Holy Family.” The Book of Genesis tells how the brothers of the first Joseph betrayed and sold him to the chief palace guard of the Egyptian pharaoh. After many trials, Jacob’s son became the vizier of Egypt.

During a famine in and around Egypt, the pharaoh advised his people to turn to Joseph in all of their needs: “Go to Joseph: and do all that he shall say to you.” Many spiritual writers of the Catholic Church have applied this verse to the foster father of Jesus.

None of Saint Joseph’s words are recorded in the Gospels, but this great saint’s actions speak loudly to Christians. He was the “just man” (Matthew 1:19) who responded promptly to the messages from God given to him in dreams and by angels. He subsequently took the Blessed Virgin Mary into his home, and later led his Holy Family to Egypt when Herod sought to kill Jesus. He returned to Nazareth after an angel informed him of Herod’s death.

Later in Quamquam Pluries, Pope Leo XIII recommended that “men of every rank and country should fly to the trust and guard of the blessed Joseph. Fathers of families find in Joseph the best personification of paternal solicitude and vigilance; spouses a perfect example of love, of peace, and of conjugal fidelity….the rich will understand, by his lessons, what are the goods most to be desired and won at the price of their labor. As to workmen, artisans, and persons of lesser degree, their recourse to Joseph is a special right, and his example is for their particular imitation.”

One hundred years later, in his apostolic letter Redemptoris Custos, Pope Saint John Paul II emphasized the “profound interior life” of Saint Joseph. He noted that the saint’s “submission to God…is really nothing less than that exercise of devotion which constitutes one expression of the virtue of religion.” The Guardian of the Holy Family’s life of work and prayer prefigures the Rule of Saint Benedict.

A 19th-century follower of Saint Benedict, Dom Bernard Maréchaux, wrote eloquently about Saint Joseph’s patronage to all humanity: “The life of Joseph the worker was a humble life, and because of this, it was doomed to be forgotten. Here is precisely how, from this life of humility, God could fashion a patronage that extends itself to billions of human beings…Far above the half-faded images of founders of empires, law-givers, and conquerors, appears the gentle and inspired face of Saint Joseph the Worker, brightened by the divine radiance of Jesus.”

May Saint Joseph inspire us and protect us as we go about our daily lives working for the advancement of the Kingdom of God!

Matthew Balan started working at the Institute for Human Ecology in January 2019. He is a native of Wilmington, Delaware, and currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

What does ‘for the life and health of the mother’ mean in abortion law?

By Christine Rousselle

New York’s newly-signed abortion law permits abortion for any reason up until the 24th week of a pregnancy, and then afterwards in cases to protect the “life and health” of the mother, but what does this mean?

Opponents of the Reproductive Health Act, signed into law Tuesday, say it will result in the killing of healthy, viable, unborn babies. The law’s supporters point to the “life and health” clause as a protection of real medical discretion. What exactly is the “life and health of the mother” in law? One Catholic law professor told CNA that it adds up to near abortion-on-demand.

According to Professor Lucia A. Silecchia of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, the term is “one of the most notoriously vague provisions in abortion jurisprudence,” and is included in various opinions and laws without any sort of clear definition as to what it actually means.

Read the rest of the article here.

Originally published on 25 January 2019 at the Catholic News Agency.

IHE Fellows in Atlanta at the Allied Social Sciences Association in January

On January 5, three IHE fellows (Andy Yuengert, Catherine Pakaluk, and Mary Hirschfeld) presented recent research in a paper session at the annual meetings of the Allied Social Sciences Association in Atlanta. The well-attended session, “Explorations in Christian Thought and Economic Analysis,” was organized by Andy Yuengert, and sponsored by the Association of Christian Economists. The three papers each offered insight into how Catholic perspectives on society and the human person might affect how we think about economics and the economy. Mary Hirschfeld (Villanova), drawing on her recent book, “Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Human Economy” (Harvard University Press), explored the distinction between “being” and “having” in Catholic Social Doctrine. How should we look at the economy differently when our vocation (“being”) is not equivalent to the multiplication of material goods (“having”)? Catherine Pakaluk followed with a discussion of dependence in economic studies of human relationships. Pakaluk outlined the differences between statistical dependence in social science research and dependence in actual families, in schools, and in the workplace. She then reflected on the challenge of analyzing these two kinds of dependence together. Andy Yuengert reflected on the difficulty that economics has in analyzing virtue, especially Aristotelian virtue. To model reality economists must simplify it, and the virtues are needed to address the very complexity that economists leave out of their models. A fourth paper, presented by Gordon Menzies of University of Technology, Sydney, outlined an economic humanism based on Christian principles.

The presenters were joined by four discussants, young economics PhDs and PhD students interested in Catholic Social Doctrine. The discussants brought their mainstream economic expertise to bear in their comments, at the same time being willing to grapple with the perspectives of the papers, which was decidedly outside of the mainstream. Their comments added critical perspective to the session, placing the papers more firmly in conversation with the economics discipline.

Human Rights and the Truth About Man:<BR>The Universal Declaration at 70

by IHE Fellow V. Bradley Lewis

Seventy years ago last month the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). That document has since become a touchstone for the moral evaluation of political regimes around the world as well as for the continuing development of international law. Its passage was clearly part of the world’s reaction to the catastrophic destruction caused by the Second World War.

The document was also extraordinary for addressing the continuing division of the world by radically different moral, political and religious views. The issuing of the document led the great Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain to make his now-famous comment on human rights. When Maritain was asked how such agreement on the rights protected in the UDHR was achieved, he replied that we can agree on which rights to protect, “provided no one asks us why.” In this we can see both the promise of the UDHR and the international human-rights movement more generally, but also their perils and limitations.

Read more here.

V. Bradley Lewis is an associate professor of philosophy. Dr. Lewis specializes in political and legal philosophy. He has written articles on the political thought of Plato and Aristotle and on some figures in the neo-Thomist tradition, as well as on the topics of public reason and religious freedom.

Originally published on 8 January 2019 at the National Catholic Register.

The Little Prince beats The Prince

In one of my seminars this semester, “Classics of International Relations,” we read The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. It is a cold, calculating manual for how to gain and keep power that not even the last chapter, a rousing call to liberate Italy from foreign occupation, can redeem. And it is a book that appears on many syllabi of international relations as well as business strategy – after all, the belief seems to be, conquering a city is not that different from expanding market share.

But maybe next time I teach the class, I will skip Machiavelli – or at least, read his Prince together with a completely different book, The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery. Yes, that classic for kids and for discerning adults who can see an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

The reason is that le petit prince understands social order and what is needed to maintain it much better, or least much more fully, than the Prince. For the latter, fear is the dominating emotion when we encounter other people. Others, in fact, are hell – or at least potential hell. They are “ungrateful, fickle, pretenders, evaders of danger, greedy for gain”, according to the Prince (chapter XVII). If that’s the case, only political power – a polity that dominates over us – can supply the necessary conditions for social cohesion and order. Political power is thus not an outcome, but the foundation of order.

The Little Prince is different. Upon landing on earth, he seeks others because loneliness does not satisfy him. He develops friendships, with a fox and then with the author, a pilot stranded in the middle of the desert. Friendship requires time, patience, slowly developing ties of mutual dependence. It is inevitable that there will be pain as friends go away or fall short of our expectation (“it is sad to forget a friend”!), but the risk of pain should not move us away from our humanity: to be human means to be a friend and to have friends, whatever the impossibility of predicting a friendship’s future serenity. Being alone – an ideal for The Prince who seeks complete autonomy based on overwhelming and efficient power – is hell for le petit prince.

So, next time I teach this class, Machiavelli may have to be tamed by the Little Prince. Niccolò’s Prince may offer technical knowledge of the political machine, but the Little Prince gives us wisdom of human interactions; the former fears and dominates others, the latter seeks others so he may love. Who would you rather follow?

This is based on a longer essay published in 2014 in The American Interest:

Two Princes


Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D. is associate professor at The Catholic University of America.

Journalists Discuss ‘Healing the Breach of Trust’ in the Church after Sex Abuse Crisis

A journalist’s vocation is, according to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, “to seek out the truth and to tell true stories about the world by writing these stories in an entertaining and interesting fashion.” But what happens when the fascinating, complex story a journalist is reporting involves a scandal in their own faith?

That question was at the heart of a Nov. 19 discussion panel, “Healing the Breach of Trust,” which was hosted by The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology. The panel, which was moderated by Douthat featured religion journalists Elizabeth Bruenig (The Washington Post), Christopher White (Crux/The Tablet), and J.D. Flynn (Catholic News Agency), who earned his licentiate in Canon Law from the University in 2007.

[Watch the video from the event here.]

Over the course of the hour-long conversation, the four journalists discussed numerous issues related to the sex abuse crisis, including the role the secular and Catholic press play in investigating, reporting, and framing the public’s understanding, and the ways they believe the Church can move forward and heal after the ongoing scandals.

The discussion is the first of a series of planned conferences at Catholic University titled, “The Church and the Laity: Healing the Breach of Trust.” University President John Garvey gave a brief introduction at the event, noting that the current crisis feels different than the one in 2002: “In 2002, most Catholics trusted the bishops to take care of the problem,” he said. “Today many Catholics see the bishops themselves as the problem. The faithful have lost trust in their bishops.”

President Garvey urged the faithful to find a way to respond to the crisis that will take a step toward healing that loss of trust. He also announced the launch of a new University project entitled “The Church and the Laity,” which will examine the role of the lay faithful in Church reform.

Douthat began the conversation by asking panelists how their experiences as faithful Catholics have shaped their coverage of abuse revelations. In terms of pure storytelling, Douthat said the sex abuse crisis is a compelling assignment for journalists because it is a “remarkable human drama” and a “complex story.” On the other hand, he noted that Catholic journalists feel a personal responsibility and commitment to the institution they are covering.

“We believe the Church is a means through which God has willed the salvation of the human race,” Douthat said. “That makes covering the Church at this moment complicated.”

White said he finds covering the abuse scandal “profoundly exciting and profoundly challenging.” His faith has been affirmed by the number of people who are passionate about learning the truth and taking steps in a positive direction, but he said he also misses the days when he could look at his faith in a less complicated way.

“I miss not thinking I have to observe my faith instead of simply practicing it,” he said. “I miss thinking of a cardinal or archbishop as just someone I respect and not someone I cover.”

Bruenig said she takes solace in the fact that she can bring her faith to her work, especially when it involves speaking to abuse survivors.

“I think that for them, knowing that I am a fellow Catholic who cares in a very real way, there is a therapeutic element,” she said.

Still, she said there have been some stories she wished she didn’t need to hear.

“It’s indelible, I can’t unknow it,” she said. “I do hope the victims and the survivors and the journalists covering this, I hope they’re getting something good out of it and that it’s not having an overall detrimental effect.”

A lack of information from Church authorities is a common challenge for journalists covering the abuse crisis, the panelists said.

“Our religion reporters literally wrote a story about all the people who refused to talk to them,” said Douthat. “The Vatican is very closed to us. It’s not like reporting on someone like Trump. There are ways the Vatican can more successfully stonewall The New York Times in ways that an American politician or bishop cannot.”

This lack of response can put journalists in an uncomfortable position. While clergy understand the importance of the investigations, they are sometimes too cautious or fearful to answer questions on the record.

“We broke a story this summer and a bishop called me and said, ‘Thank you for doing this and please keep naming names. We need this purification of the church,’” said Flynn. “But then the closer we got to his diocese, the more those ‘thank you’s’ started to dry up.”

Flynn believes that one issue standing in the way of rebuilding trust in the Church is a lack of transparency from Church leadership about the specific steps taken to investigate abuse allegations. Decisions need to be made about when to reveal names of credibly accused priests and what terms like “credibly accused” even mean. He also believes there should be set penalties and processes in order for priests who engage in acts of sexual misconduct of any kind.

“Catholics want transparency in the process and they want more details,” Flynn said. “At the same time, due process is still very important.”

To conclude the discussion, Douthat asked the panelists what their first actions would be to heal the Church, if they were suddenly placed in charge.

White said he would place a mother as the leader of the sexual abuse investigations. Flynn suggested a large public penance for all Church leaders. As for Bruenig, she said she would advocate for a culture of radical truth-telling inspired by Christ himself.

“Before any procedural change, before any policy comes forward, we just have to adopt a policy of telling the truth even if it hurts you because this is a religion that has a radical sacrifice at the center of it,” she said.

Radical self-sacrifice is at the middle of Christianity because it’s a thing that inspires faith. If Jesus sacrificed himself for you, that’s something you can believe in and people want to feel that way about the Church.”

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on November 20, 2018. Watch the video from the event here.

Upcoming events in the “Healing the Breach of Trust” series include: “The Role of the Laity in Responding to the Crisis: Theological and Historical Foundations,” on Feb. 6; “What’s Really Going On? The Root Causes of the Current Crisis,” on March 26; and “Renewal in the Church: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” on April 25.

1 2 3