Conference Rationale

Universality (that is, small “c” catholicity) and, therefore, unity amid diversity, are acknowledged as fundamental characteristics of Roman Catholicism. But in recent years issues that are by now all too familiar to each of us have rent the Catholic Church in the United States—with the resulting divisiveness and vitriol playing out both in local churches and in public politics. Rather than the healthy debates characteristic of a living tradition, we have witnessed in our public politics—and often, also in the local contexts of everyday lives—an absence of genuine engagement and dialogue. Catholics of good will are alienated from one another. Sean Cardinal O’Malley has described the current climate of polarization as “a cancer in the Church.”[1] This is a disturbingly apt metaphor applied to the Church as the body of Christ.

The premise behind this conference is that, although particular “hot button” issues, including those surrounding issues of gender, sexuality, and authority, have divided American Catholics, there is much that yet binds us together as both Catholics and citizens. In fact, despite the magnified influence those at the poles can exert, sociological studies of polarization suggest that only 20% or less of the population occupy truly polar positions on these contested issues. Our goal, then, is to better understand the social and religious underpinnings of our divisions, to explore how our common beliefs and aspirations can help us heal some of the hurts that the divisions have caused, as well as how open dialogue with those with differing views of issues that have proved contentious might challenge us to revise and incorporate new understandings of them that might help bring healing and hope—unity in our diversity.

At this event we will provide both public and private opportunities for individuals to tell stories of wounding and brokenness. We will all hear from a genuinely diverse group of voices in the U.S. Church. We will engage the latest sociological data and use tools of social and political analysis to set the scene for theological reflection upon the present climate of moral and political polarization among Catholics. This will allow us to begin a dialogue about the “signs of the times.”

In so doing, we can then begin to think creatively about concrete steps we can take to contribute to the healing of the U.S. Catholic Church. In that process, we will listen to, and consider, members of groups within the Church—especially the Millennial generation and the growing number of U.S. Hispanic Catholics—that will comprise its faithful and its leadership in the next generation, since it is upon them that the Church will depend in shaping a vital and faithful witness in the world of the twenty-first century.

—Mary Ellen Konieczny and Charles Camosy, February 2015




[1] Cardinal O’Malley made this remark at a recent meeting of the Catholic Conversation Project, founded by Prof. Camosy in 2009, which is a diverse group of theologians teaching at Catholic colleges and universities across the country who are self-consciously coming together to form non-polarized relationships. See a write-up on the first meeting here