Doing Theology and Theological Ethics in the Face of the Abuse Crisis

La Civiltà Cattolica - Society of Jesus [Rome, Italy]

March 23, 2023

By Hans Zollner and James Keenan

Daniel J. Fleming, James F. Keenan, SJ, and Hans Zollner, SJ along with a substantial team from Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church and the Institute of Anthropology at the Gregorian University (formerly the Centre for Child Protection), have assembled this collection of essays on one of the most critical issues facing Catholicism.

This book seeks answers to questions such as: “to what extent have we been blind to these issues? Why have our efforts in theology and theological ethics been so slow to wrestle with this crisis? How are theology and theological ethics implicated in the crisis? And how might the disciplines be constructive in responding?”


From the Introduction

In the Spring of 2019, James Keenan was a visiting professor at his alma mater, the Gregorian University in Rome. After several meetings with his friend and fellow Jesuit Hans Zollner and his colleagues at the then Centre for Child Protection, the two decided that the Centre together with Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) would host at the Gregorian University a “theological laboratory,” called “Doing Theology in the Face of Sexual Abuse.”

We designated it as a laboratory because we envisioned a deeply collaborative project of eighty theologians from a wide array of disciplines and from varied locations and perspectives. Five panels of inquiry were specified, and on July 15, 2019, we sent out letters of invitation for a March 11–14, 2020, meeting.

In preparation for the meeting, Australia’s Daniel Fleming proposed to co-chair with Keenan one of CTEWC’s newly launched “virtual tables” dedicated to the topic of theology and sexual abuse. After its international Conference in Sarajevo in 2018, CTEWC began hosting such “tables” that were monthly meetings of international theologians collectively grappling with a particular ethical challenge for a 90-minute period.

Fleming made his proposal in November, and in December 2019 the first virtual table was held, composed of eight members who would be attending the Laboratory in Rome. We invited three of these members to the table to offer brief “provocations” so as to get the discussion going in advance of our meeting in person.

Then COVID came. On March 5, 2020, the Italian government shut down all universities, and we postponed our meeting. […] .. The virtual table developed much further to sixteen members and, with Fleming and Keenan as co-chairs, continues to meet until the present time. […]

We commend the authors for bringing their scholarship to this difficult topic. Doing theology and theological ethics in the face of sexual abuse is painful, but crucial, work. We offer this volume in the hope that it will be one among other constructive and critical responses to the affront to human dignity that is sexual abuse in the Church, and the work required to assure human dignity into the future.”


Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church has published the book online, click here to download it

Hans Zollner and James Keenan are both contributors to La Civiltà Cattolica