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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Benedict XVI and the U.S. Bishops: Political Differences and the Difference They Make

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Lisa Sowle Cahill, Boston College
Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Time: 12:00-1:15 PM
Location: Boisi Center, 24 Quincy Road

In preparation for the 2008 national elections, the U.S. bishops published a voting guide identifying as priorities a number of issues, including abortion, health care reform, racism, and immigration. In practice, however, individual bishops spoke out more frequently and strongly on abortion than on other issues, a fact on which the media capitalized. In the health care reform debates of 2009, opposition to possible expansion or funding of abortion access became the issue with which the Catholic Church was most visibly identified. The U.S. bishops and Pope Benedict XVI hold similar positions on issues, but their politics differ.  Benedict's 2009 encyclical, for example, Caritas in Veritate, confirms his opposition to abortion and euthanasia. Yet the overriding concern and focus of Caritas in Veritate is world poverty, development, and the reform of the international economic order, including access to health care. These issues seem to be those in which Benedict is most politically invested, given, for example, his World Day of Peace Messages 2009 and 2010, and the 2009 Synod for Africa. The U.S. bishops and Pope Benedict XVI hold similar positions on issues, but their politics differ. How do the changing cultural concerns affect the policies of the Pope and bishops? Who are their audiences? Who responds to their leadership? Specifically, who, what, or where is Catholicism in U.S. public life?

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Lisa Cahill is the J. Donald Monan professor of theology at Boston College. Cahill has taught at Boston College since 1976 and has also been a visiting professor at Georgetown and Yale Universities. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Society of Christian Ethics. Holding eight honorary degrees, Professor Cahill has written extensively on theological ethics. Her recent works include Bioethics and the Common Good (Marquette University Press, 2003), Theological Bioethics: Participation, Justice and Change (Georgetown University Press, 2005) and Genetics, Theology, Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Conversation (Crossroad, 2005). Her research interests include the history of Christian ethics, New Testament ethics, Catholic social ethics, feminist theology, bioethics, and the ethics of war and peace. She is currently a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been a member of the Steering Committee of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative since 1998.