Looking Back, Looking Forward: Ethical Reflection in a Changing Cultural Landscape
Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ spoke on September 28, 2004 here at Notre Dame, at 4 p.m. in the auditorium of McKenna Hall (the Center for Continuing Education), followed by a reception. Then we convened a panel, consisting of Cardinal Dulles, Ralph McInerny and Edmund Pellegrino, commenced at 8 p.m., also in the auditorium of McKenna Hall. The events were free and open to the public.
In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II urgently called for a "general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort" to combat the distressing attacks against the dignity of the human person found in so many modern democratic societies. "All together," the pope wrote, "we must build a new culture of life." And in urging this mission, he made a special appeal to intellectuals, especially Catholic intellectuals, to be present and active in the leading centers where culture is formed.
In 1999, the administration at the University of Notre Dame asked David Solomon to be the founding director of just such a center, one in which the hopeful moral vision not only of Evangelium Vitae, but also of Centesimus Annus, Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio, served as the animating spirit of the institution. When the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture opened its doors, our aims were ambitious: to organize lectures and conferences, to launch a new publications initiative, to establish a broad program of visiting fellows-all at the service of a new Culture of Life.
In the first five years of the Center's existence, we made substantial progress in all of these areas, and also began a number of other projects we did not even dream about in 1999. The Center's agenda for the 2004-05 academic year included three conferences and two lecture series (including the Center's flagship fall conference, to be devoted to the arts and the evangelization of culture); the inaugural issue of a new undergraduate journal; the continuation of a hugely successful undergraduate lecture series on Catholic writers; as well as a new dinner event aimed at enriching the spiritual life of Notre Dame students. The Center has also entered into an agreement with the University of Notre Dame Press for two new series of scholarly texts, one focused on theoretical issues in contemporary ethics, the other more tightly focused on medical ethics. Moreover, the first junior visiting fellow was in residence at the Center during this year, and a donor helped us establish an endowment for a senior visiting fellow.
So our news is very good. Indeed, we believe that the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture has begun to have a deep impact not only upon academic culture here in the United States, but upon the wider culture as well.
But we also face substantial challenges, some of which are of a very different character than those we originally faced back in 1999. The much more imminent threat of terrorism, new advances in technology that have further jeopardized respect for the dignity of the human person, and the sexual-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the United States were generally only peripheral problems when we looked out on the cultural landscape five years ago, while today they tend to dominate the vista. These and many other cultural challenges need to be reflected upon as the Center charts its course for the future.
This certainly was an exciting event; we would like to thanks all who were able to join us in this celebration of both our past and our future.