Former US Ambassador to Holy See to Chair New Human Rights Commission

Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, will head a new human rights advisory body to the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.

“It’s a sad commentary on our times that more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, gross violations continue throughout the world,” Secretary Pompeo stated at a July 8 press conference announcing the new Commission on Unalienable Human Rights.

Pompeo said that “the time is right for an informed review of American human rights in foreign policy,” and that Glendon was “the perfect person to chair this effort” and chair the new commission.

Read more here.

Originally published on 8 July 2019 at The Catholic World Report.

Is a Civil Public Discourse Even Possible?

By IHE Fellow Emmett McGroarty, J.D.

Over the last 20 years, public discourse has tended toward the shrill and irrational, punctuated with occasional violence. No sharing of opinions. Don’t ask questions.  No discussion of points of view. Empathy is dead. Socialization—an essential human activity—is regulated by the mob, and its walls are shrinking.


Does the form or practice of our government have anything to do with this dystopia?


In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville made a few observations worth mulling.


The structure of our government, he noted, preserved the power of the townships, most notably in New England but everywhere resting on the “same idea.” It preserved the natural order. Man, Tocqueville declared, “makes kingdoms and creates republics; the township appears to issue directly from the hands of God.”


“It is in the township, at the center of ordinary relations in life, that desires for esteem, the need of real interests, the taste for power and for attention, come to be concentrated; these passions, which so often trouble society, change character when they can be expressed so near the domestic hearth and in a way in the bosom of the family.” It is through local governance that the individual “gets a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and finally assembles clear and practical ideas on the nature of his duties as well as the extent of his rights.”


“Local freedoms, which make many citizens put value on the affection of their neighbors and those close to them, therefore constantly bring men closer to one another, despite the instincts that separate them, and force them to aid each other.”


As the Catechism observes, participation in civic life “develops the qualities of the person . . . and helps guarantee his rights” (par. 1882).  This subsidiarity—embracing socialization—leads to solidarity.


Given a century of increased centralization—taking more and more power away from local communities, should discord and rancor in the public square and on college campuses be such a surprise?

Emmett McGroarty studies public policies that undermine the constitutional structure and the principle of subsidiarity. He is the co-author of Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. He is also co-author of Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America, Pioneer Institute, No. 87 (May 2012); and Cogs in the Machine: Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing, Pioneer Institute, No. 114 (May 2014). Mr. McGroarty is co-founder of, a nationwide network of individuals and organizations that sheds light on the Common Core system and the collection of private data on children and their families. His published works have appeared in, among others, Breitbart, Christian Post, Crisis, Daily Caller, The Federalist,, New York Post, Public Discourse, The Hill, Townhall, USA Today, and The Washington Times. He has testified before state and federal committees and commissions. Mr. McGroarty received an A.B. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from Fordham School of Law.

The European Slide Toward Irrelevance

By Jakub Grygiel

Elections for the European parliament, regardless of the results, are always a celebration of the EU project. Blue flags with the 12 golden stars are omnipresent when a “European electorate” casts its vote in what is considered the largest election in the world outside India. But the most recent elections are important for a different reason: They are part of a longer trend that is pushing Europe toward global irrelevance.

Two election results in particular are striking, not because of their novelty but because they demonstrate the resilience of certain political forces that are leading to Europe’s withdrawal from the global chessboard.

First, the rise of the “greens” in Europe. While not a new political force, the “green” movement is no longer an afterthought. In Germany it is now the second-largest party, replacing the Social Democrats. These results reflect a continent-wide drift toward environmental concerns instead of “social justice.” Essentially, they show the greening of the Left; the social justice warriors are now climate change worriers.

Read more here.

Originally published on 3 June 2019 at The American Interest. 

Exploring Wonder and Beauty in the Scientific World

How do aesthetic factors such as beauty, awe, and wonder play a role in scientific research? And how does this change in different cultures or fields?

These and other questions were explored during the first International Symposium on the Aesthetic Dimensions of Science, a day-long conference held at The Catholic University of America on June 3.

The interdisciplinary symposium was organized by Brandon Vaidyanathan, associate professor and department chair of sociology and a fellow with the University’s Institute for Human Ecology. Vaidyanathan chose to organize the event as part of an ongoing research project that explores the ways in which scientific research is not only methodical, rational, and objective, but is also shaped by aesthetic and emotional elements.

“When you read what prominent scientists have written across centuries, they’re often writing rather eloquently about the importance of beauty in science, and beauty as a driving principle, along with awe and wonder,” Vaidyanathan said. “What interests me as a sociologist is whether this is simply the providence of famous celebrity scientists and Nobel prize winners, or is this a part of the ordinary experience of the way scientists work?”

To explore this topic, Vaidyanathan invited astrophysicists, biologists, sociologists, and other renowned experts from around the world to present. The day began with a talk from James McAllister, a professor of philosophy at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who spoke about how scientists often describe scientific equations as beautiful. The question McAllister tries to explain is why scientists consider theories that strike them as beautiful as more likely to be true than those that do not.

To explain this, McAllister offers a theory which he calls aesthetic induction, a “learning process where scientists update their aesthetic preferences in the light of empirical performance.” Through this process, he theorizes, scientists look back on past successes and unconsciously begin to think of those experiences as more positive or aesthetically pleasing than other solutions, until eventually the correct solutions begin to seem beautiful to them.

“This provides a link between scientist’s preferences and the objective properties of theories and encourages scientists to think that their aesthetic preferences are tuned to true theories,” he said.

Also presenting during the morning was Mario Livio, an astrophysics professor from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who spoke about the various kinds of human curiosity and why curiosity should be supported. His talk was followed by one from Robert Gilbert, a biology professor from the University of Oxford, who discussed the relationship between natural beauty and knowledge.

Afternoon presenters included sociologists Renny Thomas from Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi, India, and Stefano Sbalchiero from the University of Padova, Italy, who spoke about the ways scientists in India and Italy express their religion or spirituality in their work.

Duilia de Mello, Catholic University professor of astrophysics and vice provost for research support, also spoke in the afternoon and shared how she uses wonder and beauty to build curiosity and excitement for kids learning about science.

“Many of us here are actually teachers and we have a role in kids’ lives of triggering their curiosity,” de Mello said.

One of the keys to triggering curiosity among young people, de Mello said, is to start with interests that they already have. Another method is to use the technologies and communication styles that they use and to keep conversations going.

“Triggering dreams is relatively easy,” she said. “The problem is how do you follow up and keep them interested.”

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on June 5, 2019 and written by Katie Bahr, Assistant Director of Communications and Media Relations.

A Meaningful Life

By IHE Fellow Angela McKay Knobel, Ph.D.

For years, I have taught The Apology in my introductory philosophy class. Every year, some students hate Socrates. One year, one of my students found Socrates particularly annoying. As we were working through the text, she slammed her book down in frustration. “Why doesn’t this guy just get a job?” she exclaimed. The University of Tulsa apparently agrees with her. Just last month, the university announced the elimination of all traditional liberal arts majors. The rationale for these changes is made explicit in the introduction to the university’s strategic plan, entitled, “Jobs as Central to Life.” After stating in the first sentence that “higher education prepares people for a meaningful life,” the remainder of the document articulates a vision of just what preparation for a meaningful life amounts to. A university prepares its students for a meaningful life by giving them the skills they need to get a job when they graduate.

Socrates believed that a meaningful life is an examined life: that the unexamined life is not worth living. The administration of the University of Tulsa, by contrast, appears to believe that a meaningful life is an employed life. In this respect they seem to understand even less than that irritated college freshman.

Those of us who side with Socrates think that the value of a university education lies in its ability to stimulate the self-examination that makes life meaningful. We think that to engage in a sustained and serious study of subjects like history and philosophy and literature is invariably to come up against life’s most important questions, and we think meaning is found only in the process of grappling with those questions. Indeed, the hope is that the process that begins in the university will bleed into the rest of life: that students will emerge from the university with a sense of seriousness and purpose and not least, humility.

Young people emerge from the university into a world that offers them more choices than ever before, choices that are as or more difficult than the choices any preceding generation will face. Should I accept a job that requires me to act dishonestly? Should I choose a higher salary if it requires me to spend more time away from my family? Do I have any obligations to an unplanned child or an ailing parent? The way they navigate these choices will determine the meaningfulness (or lack thereof) their lives have. If we merely give them jobs we will have given them nothing meaningful at all.

Angela McKay Knobel is an associate professor of philosophy. She has published extensively on medieval and contemporary ethics. Recently, Dr. Knobel was invited by the U.S. Naval Academy to participate in a review of the academy’s Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Division curriculum, particularly of the area devoted to moral character. 

Only by returning to the Faith can we truly rebuild Notre Dame

By IHE Fellow Chad Pecknold, Ph.D.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris was built out of stone and wood and glass without electricity or computers. It was not built by committee, or consultants or according to state regulations. It was built by a culture superior to our own. And we know it.

Perhaps not everyone who has ever stood in awe of Notre Dame knows why it attracts them. Not everyone who watched an entire forest of oak as old as Charlemagne collapse in flames knows why its destruction made them tremble. But tremble they did.

As the spire cracked and buckled, millions of us felt civilization trembling. But trembling at what? At the loss of God? At the sudden recognition that, for all our progressive confidence, deep down everyone knows that Western civilization lacks the philosophical and religious principles that once made such a structure possible in the first place?

Read more here.

Originally published on 16 April 2019 at the Catholic Herald. 

Washington Insider – June 2019

By William Saunders, JD, Program Director of the MA in Human Rights at The Catholic University of America


The March for Life, the President, and Executive Branch Developments

In November, the UN Human Rights Committee published Comment 36 to guide the understanding and implementation of article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In doing so, the HRC attempted to make abortion an accepted part of every nation’s law and practice. First, it is important to note that, other than a regional protocol in Africa, no binding international document mentions abortion. Abortion advocates have, thus, long sought to shoehorn abortion into the provisions of binding international documents. This is precisely what the HRC is trying to do with Comment 36.

The ICCPR is a treaty; that is, it contains legally binding obligations for any nation that ratifies the treaty. Most nations have ratified it, but those that have not are not bound by its terms. The ICCPR is one of the two major treaties designed to implement the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was issued by the United Nations after World War II.22 It is worthwhile to pause and consider the preamble to the Declaration in order to understand how far off-line the HRC went with Comment 36.

Read more here. 

Originally published in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. 

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

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.

Love and Light: Reflections on the Meaning of Notre Dame

by Dennis Coyle, Ph.D.

I suppose it’s a bit preposterous for me to feel a deep personal connection with Notre-Dame. I’ve been there maybe a dozen times during brief Paris sojourns over the past decade. Hardly exceptional compared with the experience of the legions of faithful who worshipped there regularly, or of the millions of Parisians and French who learned the moods of Notre Dame as they passed by on vacations or just going about their daily business over the years. Notre Dame was literally as well as figuratively the center of the island in the center of Paris, and thus the center of France, and what it means to be French. Even the most jaded cosmopolitan Parisian could not avoid a relationship with Notre Dame, as it is impossible to go much of anywhere in Paris without passing by it.

Despite my limited familiarity, Notre Dame was my Notre Dame. Great architecture does that to you. The embodiment of history and culture does that to you. Faith does that to you. A great cathedral is a bit like a great author, a great performer. He may be read by millions or perform in sold-out stadiums, but you know he is speaking directly and personally to you. That was my Notre Dame.

Two visits to Notre Dame stand out; both visits were unexpected. I had intended both days to be in Lille, and ended up in Paris due to train misfortunes. I suppose there are earthly explanations in each case, though I’m inclined to believe that something more profound is involved.

Read more here.

Originally published on 1 May 2019 at The Imaginative Conservative.

Dennis Coyle, Ph.D. is an IHE Fellow and an associate professor and Politics Department Chair at The Catholic University of America. Dr. Coyle’s research interests include liberal constitutionalism, property rights and regulation, social science theory, and generally the interplay of institutions, culture, and values in law, policy, and administration.


The Catholic University of America’s<br> Second Novak Symposium

by IHE Fellow Andreas Widmer

An unusual mix of scholars, friends, and students met on campus at Catholic University March 19 for the second Novak Symposium, a project of the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship, directed by IHE Fellow Andreas Widmer.

Michael Novak, the esteemed author, philosopher, and theologian for whom the Symposium is named, loved to examine commonly held ideas to see whether or in what sense they were actually true. For example, although it’s usually held that the United States is the land of the “rugged individual,” Novak studied life in early America and saw that it was really the story of communities being built by common needs and interests — the land of the community barn-raising, not the isolated loner. Thoroughly orthodox in his Catholicism, he nonetheless excelled at bringing a fresh perspective to our sometimes too- conventional thinking.

It’s in this spirit that the annual Novak Symposium convened: not to repeat what Michael Novak said, but to continue his genuinely open-minded and big-hearted manner of confronting problems. This year’s theme took as its starting point Novak’s Templeton lecture from 1994, which student participants were asked to read. In 1994, with the collapse of Soviet Communism, the world assumed that the free market had “won” the debate with Socialism. Is that still true in 2019?

The event took place in two parts. In the morning, in the fashion of a traditional academic conference, three speakers engaged the question from their distinct perspectives. Author Mary Eberstadt, a close Novak friend, discussed what it means to engage a problem with a “catholic mind.” (A taste of her remarks is available here.) George Mason University Professor of Economics and Philosophy Peter Boettke argued that free markets require virtue, but do a better job than the alternatives when it comes to fostering the needs of the human person, who has more than just material needs. Economist and techno-visionary George Gilder offered a fascinating presentation on how the Chinese economy has begun to outpace the American in dynamic innovation. It was an intellectually bracing morning.

In the afternoon, students competed in a “social justice hack-a-thon,” during which they tried to tackle a current social problem in a “Novakian” manner — that is, applying Novak’s definition of social justice as a personal virtue aimed at building the common good. Professor Elizabeth Shaw, Director of Special Academic Projects for the Ciocca Center at The Busch School, and a long time collaborator with Michael Novak, organized the event. She was especially pleased by the high student participation rate, since an important aim of the program is to spread Novak’s legacy to a new generation. “Interacting with students was a priority and a joy for Novak, so the good turnout of undergraduates, both for the morning conference and for the hackathon in the afternoon, was especially gratifying,” she said.

Andreas Widmer is an IHE Fellow and the director of entrepreneurship programs at the Busch School of Business. Mr. Widmer works closely with top entrepreneurs, investors, and faith leaders around the world to foster enterprise solutions to poverty and promote virtuous business practices.

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Tradition and Authority in Luigi Giussani’s Educational Method

by Margarita Mooney

It’s more authentic to stand before a young person and humbly say, “I’ve found something I’m eager to share with you, and I want to provoke you to go on your own journey for the truth,” than to deny that teachers, mentors, and other role models are speaking from tradition with authority.

For the past several years, I have assigned Monsignor Luigi Giussani’s The Risk of Education as the final book in a seminar I teach on liberal arts education. One student’s response to Risk of Education echoed what I felt when I first picked up a book by Giussani, just a few years ago. She remarked that “Giussani uses common words in uncommon ways, which is strange.” Pausing, she then continued, “But it’s also compelling.”

Giussani, the Italian Catholic priest and founder of Communion and Liberation, isn’t playing language games. Rather, the unconventional ways that he defines terms like tradition, authority, reason, verification, and provocation are actually challenges to implicit assumptions about the person and community that are expressed in our use (or misuse) of language. Thus, Risk of Education isn’t only a model for educators. It’s also a critique of modernity—and a sketch of a way forward.

Read more here.

Originally published on 15 April 2019 at Public Discourse 

Sacred and Profane Love Podcast: Philosophy Outside Academia

by Jennifer A. Frey

Let me begin by saying something about how the Sacred and Profane Love podcast came to be and what its future is. My podcast began as an extension of a three year, 2.1 million dollar research project titled, “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life,” which was generously supported by the John Templeton Foundation. The project’s aims were explicitly interdisciplinary: Candace Vogler and I brought together philosophers, religious scholars and theologians, psychologists, and other social scientists to investigate whether some conception of self-transcendence could help to make ordinary cultivation and exercise of virtue a source of deep happiness and meaning in human life. While the project produced many traditional research outputs, including an edited volume, it also had public facing components, including a well-trafficked blog; a few years into it I decided to launch a podcast that explored our central questions in a different way—viz., by focusing on literature rather than philosophy, theology, or the social sciences. 

Originally, I had no idea if anyone would listen to the podcast, but judging by the fact that it is now often the first thing people mention when they meet me, it seems to have gained some traction, and the hope is to see it continue to grow over the next few years. Although I am still releasing a few episodes over the coming months with support from the John Templeton Foundation, going forward next year it will be underwritten by The Institute for Human Ecology, which is a research institute housed at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The IHE is a multi-disciplinary institute that supports work focused on questions about the nature of human flourishing, so it fits well with my own work. This new partnership means that after a brief hiatus from blogging and releasing new episodes, I’ll be back to podcasting in the upcoming months, and I plan to continue the podcast so long as there continues to be a reasonable demand for it. 

Read more here.

Originally published on 3 April 2019 at Blog of the APA. 

Does Scripture Really Require Nation-States? Review of Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism

by Joseph E. Capizzi

Through the early twentieth century, nationalist sentiment was esteemed because it expressed desires for self-governance and freedom from oppression, and the sentiment squared with the growing awareness of rights, political freedom, and dignity held by people and peoples. “But Hitler changed all that,” argues Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, president of the Hertzl Institute, in The Virtue of Nationalism. The century which began as a contest between opposing universalist claims (liberal and socialist theories) and nationalism, saw the latter collapse because of its association with Nazi atrocities.

Nationalism is back, however. In the United States, Eastern and Central Europe, and elsewhere, appeals to the nation are on the rise, and Hazony provides its thoughtful defense in his The Virtue of Nationalism. Hazony, to his credit, does not defend nationalism as some mere modus vivendi, but instead claims that the “national state” is the best expression of political order and an international system of national states is preferable to anarchic and imperial alternatives. The national state is the political form best suited to preserve domestic peace, the conservative goods of family and local culture, freedom, and creativity.

Empire, Hazony argues, is the national state’s biggest threat, conceptually and empirically: empires are universalist and seek to impose their impersonal, abstract values on nations; they stultify in the name of “humanity” and shame national pride by trumpeting universal ideals, as for instance the UN routinely shames Israel. The Virtue of Nationalism is also a strikingly personal book, with vignettes of his childhood and his love of Israel imbuing the book with both intimacy and urgency; Hazony’s case for the nation is a case for his home, Israel. And as he makes plain in an earlier, excellent, and likewise provocative book, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul, his defense is of an Israel of “the Jewish people, the land of Israel, [and] Jewish national values.” The Virtue of Nationalism is remarkably clear and direct, and in more than a few places, beautifully written.

Read more here.

Originally published on 5 April 2019 at Providence.

Catholic teaching on economics about the human person

by Charles C. Camosy

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Mary Hirschfeld is Associate Professor of Economics and Theology in the Department of Humanities at Villanova University. She holds Ph.D.s in economics (Harvard, 1989) and theology (Notre Dame, 2013). Her work is along the borderline between economics and theology. In addition to having published numerous articles, she is the author of Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (Harvard University Press, 2018), which has been awarded the 2019 Economy and Society International Award by the Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice. She spoke to Charles Camosy about the current debate over socialism and capitalism taking place in the United States.] 

Camosy: Lots of talk about socialism in the news these days. Bernie Sanders is a front-runner for president. Younger people say they are increasingly skeptical of capitalism and much more open to socialism. But I also get the sense that these terms aren’t being used with much precision. Speaking as a student of economics, what is socialism?

Hirschfeld: “Socialism” is not an analytical term in economics. Instead, economists would use more precise terms to pick up various institutional features one might call “socialism.” So you can find economic analysis of central planning, or state-run enterprises, or the size of government-run welfare programs and the like. I should add that the term “capitalism” is much the same – a word that figures in public discourse much more than it does in economic analysis.

Read more here.

Originally published on 19 March 2019 at Crux.

Aquinas and the Market: Theologian & Economist Mary Hirschfeld on a Humane Economy

by The Politics Guys 

Mike talks with theologian and economist Mary Hirschfeld about her book Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy. Professor Hirschfeld started her career as an economist, getting her Ph.D. from Harvard and then working and teaching in the field for the next 15 years. She then made a fascinating career change, going back to graduate school and earning a doctorate in theology from Notre Dame. She’s currently an Associate Professor of Economics and Theology at Villanova University.

Topics Mike and Professor Hirschfeld discuss include:

  • what theology can bring to a discussion of economics
  • what Thomas Aquinas – a medieval Dominican friar – can contribute to our understanding of 21st century economics
  • why economics isn’t as value-neutral as many people think
  • money, desire, and happiness
  • ‘maximizing your utility’ vs. ‘ordering your life’
  • why private property is a good thing
  • inequality and economic justice

Listen here.

Originally published on 23 January 2019 at The Politics Guys 

Experts Work to Untangle the Crisis in the Church

The destruction wrought by the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis is impossible to deny. But what actually caused it to begin with?

To tackle this question, experts in the fields of theology, sociology, management, gender, and journalism gathered at The Catholic University of America on March 26 for “What’s Really Going On? The Root Causes of the Current Crisis.” The third in a series of “Healing the Breach of Trust” events, the conference was sponsored by The Catholic Project, a Catholic University initiative dedicated to healing within the church.

Stephen White, executive director of The Catholic Project, kicked off the day’s discussions by attributing the current crisis to a “diabolical tangle” of issues related to sexuality, clericalism, power, and deceit.

Introductory address by Stephen White and Susan Timoney:

“Clear careful thinking about complicated problems is especially difficult and especially necessary at a time so charged with anger and emotion,” White said. “Understanding how we got into this tangle is a critically important part of finding our way out.”

In her opening remarks for the day, Associate Professor of Theology Susan Timoney compared the current crisis to the events of 2002, and said that back then, it “seemed clear what needed to be done” in terms of increased background checks and new child protection policies. The 2018 crisis, she said, brought to light “much deeper and more complex issues” related to the “toxic mix of power and sex.”

“We can feel defeated by this toxic combination,” Timoney said. “We should not only expect something different [in the Church], but we should recognize sin for what it is and address it as such.”

In the discussion panels that followed, speakers tried to explain factors which may have contributed to the crisis. Boston College Professor Richard Gaillardetz and Chad Pecknold, associate professor of theology, explained how clericalism and careerism within the clergy may have resulted in a culture of secrecy and cover-ups related to sexual misconduct. One way to fix this, Gaillardetz said, might be a greater emphasis on shared responsibility between priests and laypeople in the Church, and an increased emphasis on the universal call to priesthood all Catholics participate in through baptism.

The Role of Power and Clericalism in the Crisis – Two Views:

Pecknold said he attributes the crisis to a culture of spiritual fatherlessness, and a rise in cultural and liturgical relativism. He suggested that it is only through humbling ourselves and turning our “interior altars to him” that the Church will be able to recover and heal.

During a panel which was moderated by Sociology Professor Brandon Vaidyanathan, management professors Gary Weaver (University of Delaware) and Michael Edward Brown (Penn State University) attributed the crisis to a lack of ethical leadership and poor organizational management within the church, in which people might fear being punished for reporting bad behaviors. In addition to new rules and procedures, the two men suggested the Church will also need more subtle cultural changes when it comes to long-expected social norms and attitudes regarding clergy members.

The Perspective of Organizational Behavior on the Crisis:

“Simply focusing on rules and monitoring disciplines alone can lead to people adopting unhelpful ‘don’t get caught’ attitudes,” said Weaver. “That can also lead to perceptions where people think they can do the wrong thing and push blame. When those kinds of perceptions are afoot, the organizational results are usually worse, not better behavior.”

During the afternoon, Rev. Paul Sullins, a retired professor of sociology, shared data that he believes to show correlations between homosexuality and abuse within the Church. Julie Rubio, a professor of theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, placed the Church crisis within the larger context of the Me Too Movement, explaining how abusers use sexual violence to exert their power. While the abuse crisis in the United States seems to include men abusing mostly other men and boys, she noted that the abuse crisis in other parts of the world often involves clergy abusing women and religious sisters.

Role of Sexuality & Sexual Teaching in the Crisis – Two Views:

A possible solution for abuse in the Church, Rubio said, would be a more holistic formation for seminarians with regards to “living celibacy,” in which priests and seminarians are not taught to ignore their sexual and relational needs, but to seek intimacy and relationships in other ways.

The conference concluded with a discussion among Catholic journalists about media coverage of the ongoing crisis. That panel included Greg Erlandson, editor in chief and director of Catholic News Service; Jeanette DeMelo, editor in chief for National Catholic Register; and Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., president and editor in chief of America Media.

Roundtable Discussion:

The final Healing the Breach conference, “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” will take place on April 25 at Catholic University, with a keynote presentation by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron. For more information on this conference, The Catholic Project, and other Catholic University initiatives responding to the sexual abuse crisis, visit

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on April 1, 2019.

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