Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella presents the much-anticipated 2014 Keeley Vatican Lecture on “The Role of Church in Contemporary Society”


A crowd of students, professors and faculty flooded the Hesburgh Center Auditorium for the annual Keeley Vatican Lecture on February 26. The crowd, ranging from students sitting on the steps to front-row attendee Father John Jenkins, CSC, listened attentively to speaker Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and Titular Archbishop of Vicohabentia.

The director of the Nanovic Institute, Professor A. James McAdams, introduced the lecture as one of the ways the Institute tries to bring “unusual and extraordinary people” to the university. The purpose of the lecture and of the Nanovic Institute, he explained, is “to send Notre Dame to Europe and to bring Europe to Notre Dame.”

After the introduction from McAdams and a welcome from Fr. Jenkins, Archbishop Fisichella took the podium to address the topic of the lecture, “The Role of the Church in Contemporary Society.”

The Archbishop began by discussing the relationship between faith and politics, commending Catholics on both their long history of contributing to their countries and their active engagement in democracy. He then turned to look at the problems that face Catholics—especially American Catholics—today.

Archbishop Fisichella warned the audience about a “progressive loss of our religious sense” in society. He pointed to a long-established history of different societies trying to discredit the Catholic Church, implying that this “loss of religious sense” is no new phenomenon.

As he explained, the Romans declared Christianity an illicit religion because it did not fit with their ideal of polytheism. If Christians during this time had simply obeyed the Romans and given incense to Caesar, many martyrdoms would have been avoided, but capitulation would have invalidated the witness of the Gospel.

The Archbishop also examined the concept of faith as a private practice with public consequences. He said that the limitation of faith to simply a personal practice completely separate from public action is based on a “basic premise that a Christian could never accept: isolating faith from life.”

This separation goes directly against the ideals of the Church: “All Christians …are called to show concern for … a better world.” Both the Church and the state are dedicated to the same humanity and work to serve people facing the same problems.

Yet these problems are shifting.

“We are experiencing today a substantial modification of the basic concepts of Western culture … [such as] nature, world, man, God, space, infinity, time, eternity, freedom, truth, law, justice,” the Archbishop explained.

The redefinition of these foundational concepts has resulted in a new culture, as well as a new generation that views everything as acceptable under the new paradigms of thought; one individual’s truth, the Archbishop lamented, is not necessarily true for another individual.

The US’s Catholic presence has become even more crucial to the conservation of objective truth as this new culture boasts relativism while simultaneously stripping Catholics of freedom of religion in the public sphere. Archbishop Fisichella urged his listeners to root out any indifference over politics, to speak out and to challenge the redefinitions of ethical issues.

The role of the Church in contemporary society is to promote ethics, he claimed: “Ethics means promoting and defending life from its beginning until its end.”

Archbishop Fisichella reminded the audience that even within a society that dismisses or even persecutes Catholic faith, “Our principle task is to bring the gospel to all, and may we never be content until it has reached even the last person in this world.”


Abigail Bartels is a sophomore Political Science major who planned on being a marine biologist until she found out you have to like biology to do that. To discuss dolphins from a non-scientific admirerer perspective, email her at