Building Bridges in Sarajevo: An international conference on Catholic Theological Ethics

James Keenan, SJ

 James Keenan, SJ / Church Thought / 12 November 2018

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Sixteen years ago a global network of Catholic theological ethicists was born.[1] A year later an international planning committee met at Leuven University and developed the name, “Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC)”, and articulated a mission statement that recognizes “the need: to appreciate the challenge of pluralism; to dialogue from and beyond local culture; and, to interconnect within a world Church not dominated solely by a northern paradigm.”[2] Today there are more than 1,500 theological ethicists around the world who belong to the network.

There at Leuven we also decided to host an international conference including the participation of those coming from the Global South. For a variety of reasons we decided to host it in Padua.

On July 8, 2006, we hosted for the first time in history an international meeting of Catholic theological ethicists: 400 came from 63 countries to Padua. The major theme of the conference was listening: listening to voices beyond our own local culture. The meeting was a great success; the plenary papers were published by six presses around the world.[3]

We decided to meet again four years later in Trento. In 2010, Trento was even more successful with 600 participants from 72 countries. The conference was designed to consider the past, the present and the future. It helped us establish a much stronger network because of four subsequent major developments.

First, we developed a website (

Second, we launched a monthly newsletter that contains regional news, updates, book launches, job openings and the widely successful “Forum,” a monthly op-ed piece that comes from contributors from each of the five continents.

Third, we started a book series. We decided that each volume would have two editors from different continents and roughly 25 contributors from around the world. Each would be developed according to the specific themes. The first volume contained the plenary papers from Trento.[4] Then followed volumes on feminism,[5] environmental sustainability,[6] migrants and refugees,[7] biblical ethics,[8] and finally, the theological ethicist in the local Church.[9] With over 150 different contributors in these six volumes, the series has prompted all theological ethicists to think globally, to look beyond our localities and to try not to be dominated by the northern paradigm.

Finally, as a fourth development from Trento, reflecting on an initiative by the Filipina Agnes Brazal who invited ethicists across Southeast Asia to Manila in 2008,[10] we decided to host regional conferences.

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