Theologians and ethicists in the public square: Is the Public Listening? Does the Public Care?

I recently participated in a seminar on Vatican Council II’s Gaudium et Spes.  In the seminar, I was reacquainted with the Council’s claim that the Church (in this context, Catholicism) respects “the relative autonomy of the earthly affairs of the state” (paragraph 30). One implication of this position is that the Church’s public role takes place not at the level of “law” (that is, in trying to craft legislation, laws, rules and regulations, etc.) but rather at the level of “society.”  This is another way of saying that the Church is not interested in the establishment of a particular juridical order but rather desires to engage politics through the various ways in which a democracy promotes debate and deliberation on relevant issues.  One of these ways is debate in the so-called public square, through the various forms of mass media (tv, radio, print, online reporting and discussion) and general academic discourse.  One question I am particularly interested in is the extent to which Christian ethicists (and not just ordained clergy, e.g., priests, bishops, and so on) are part of the public discourse on a variety of public policy issues in mainstream media and the academy (beyond academic theology and religious studies!).  In future posts, one of the things I will be doing is keeping “tabs” on whether Christian ethicists are visible in the public square and whether anyone is actually listening to them, especially on matters of economics and international relations.  If it turns out that Christian ethicists are hardly seen and heard in the public square, then we’ll need to think about why this may be the case.

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