Development of Catholic Moral Doctrine: Probing the Subtext

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Kaveny, M. Cathleen
Christianity; Ethics in Religion; History of Christianity; Law; Practical Theology; Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion
article description
A discussion on the contribution of Judge John T. Noonan’s works on moral doctrine to the study of Catholic moral theology. Professor Kaveny argues that Noonan’s writings have aided the development of Catholic moral doctrine by examining its rich living history and tradition. She notes that Noonan views the subject as a social historian who is interested in how Catholics have interpreted moral theology over time, tracing continuities and changes in their positions, and as a lawyer who is interested in learning how they have tried to find a balance between human dignity and the common good. Professor Kaveny addresses criticisms of Noonan by Catholic progressives and conservatives, who see him as either too radical or too conservative. She argues that they have not understood his framework of analysis because they have become increasingly polarized, seeing Noonan’s works only through their narrow lenses and talking past each other rather than engaging in any meaningful dialogue on Catholic moral theology. This polarization was caused by the diverse backgrounds of moral theologians, who now include lay academics as well as members of the clergy and the lack of a standard curriculum for studying Catholic moral theology. Professor Kaveny suggests that this divide must be overcome by fostering intellectual bonding and socialization among moral theologians, in ways similar to those used by law schools to ensure creative dialogue and socialization on legal issues among their students.