Speakers explore legacy, thought of late pope

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture (dCEC) hosted the second installment of a two-part conference titled “Benedict XVI’s Legacy: Unfinished Debates of Faith, Culture, and Politics.” This part of the conference, which spanned April 7–9, included 11 talks and panels focusing on Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy, his intellectual contributions, and his personality. These events were preceded by an earlier installment at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in November 2023.

The conference topics included a variety of issues that Benedict thought deeply about during his life: culture, science and technology, faith and reason, law and justice, democracy, politics, and sexual abuse. 

Four international institutions came together to put on this event. In addition to the de Nicola Center at Notre Dame and the Pontifical Gregorian University, the event was held in collaboration with the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation and the Benedict XVI Institute

The Joseph Ratzinger Foundation is based in the Vatican and was founded by Benedict himself in response to increased scholarly interest in his thought. The foundation aims to promote research and reflection on Benedict’s intellectual work and recognize outstanding scholars. dCEC director O. Carter Snead won an award from the foundation in 2021 for his book What it Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. 

Dr. Brooke Tranten, Program Coordinator at the dCEC, called the event “incredibly successful.” She noted that it was “a really remarkable collaboration with international partners.” 

Speakers flew in from around the world, including priests from Rome and Florence, a professor from Notre Dame Australia, and university scholars from around the United States. 

On Monday night, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., President of the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation and former director of the Holy See Press Office under both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, gave a talk entitled “My Time with Pope Benedict XVI.” The talk gave witness to Benedict’s life and personality. Fr. Lombardi particularly emphasized Benedict’s love for his family. Although Benedict was a man of high intellectual caliber, he was also a man of profound sentiment, Lombardi said. When Benedict “thinks about what paradise must be like, he thinks to the years of his childhood in his family.” 

Ellie Knapp, a Notre Dame junior, told the Rover that she found this to be the most meaningful part of the talk. She found especially touching the account of “Benedict’s relationships, the importance of his family, and how that permeated the entirety of his pontificate.”

Finally, Lombardi discussed Benedict’s resignation from his role as pontiff. After Benedict discerned that he should step down from office, the remaining years of his life as Pope Emeritus were peaceful, and Benedict always recognized and prayed for the papacy of Pope Francis. “The relation between the two was a real relation of respect,” Lombardi concluded.

Reflecting on this talk, Tranten said it was “moving and a privilege to get to hear Benedict’s press secretary.”

Earlier that day, Dr. Ben Hurlbut of Arizona State University and Fr. Paolo Benanti, T.O.R. offered reflections on “Science, Technology and Faith” in the modern world in light of Benedict’s 2008 lecture on a similar topic. Fr. Benanti teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University and serves as advisor to Pope Francis on issues of AI and technology ethics. Dr. Hurlbut’s research focuses on science, technology, bioethics, and politics.

Hulburt commented on the necessity of scientific expertise in defining philosophical questions, but argued that trusting science goes too far when one attempts to provide natural scientific answers to issues that are more properly in the sphere of religion or philosophy. One example he identified of the tendency to place too much emphasis on scientific answers are yard signs that read ‘In Fauci we Trust.’ This, he said, becomes a “bastardized faith, but a faith nonetheless.”

Hurlburt also reflected on Ratzinger’s idea of personhood. Because ex-utero stem cell reproduction efforts have been successful in mice and at least partially successful in humans, he noted that questions arise as to the status of the created entities, particularly in regard to the personhood of those created from human stem cells. 

Though the conference offered a meeting place for prominent scholars from around the world, Notre Dame faculty and even some students from the university gave presentations at the conference as well. The conference both opened and closed with talks from Notre Dame faculty members, with theology professor Cyril O’Regan delivering the welcome address and Fr. John Paul Kimes of Notre Dame Law School chairing the closing roundtable. Law professor Sherif Girgis also participated in a panel on “Faith, Democracy, and Politics.” 

Additionally, four Notre Dame students presented their papers in a “Young Scholar Panel.” The presented papers were selected as winners in a “Pope Benedict XVI Essay Contest” that the dCEC hosted in conjunction with the conference. 

Will Hunter, a senior from Baumer Hall, was the only undergraduate who was selected as a winner for the conference. Reflecting on his experience presenting at the conference, Hunter told the Rover, “It’s an honor to be recognized and an even greater honor to be able to present in front of the leading scholars on the thought of Benedict.” 

Speaking on the conference as a whole, Hunter continued, “The fact that Notre Dame is hosting this is a testament to our own scholars and the commitment of the university to the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Devan Patel, an adjunct professor at Notre Dame Law School, also had a positive reflection about the conference as a whole, calling it “a great continuation of what started in Rome in 2023.” 

The full list of events and talks is available on the dCEC website.

Caleb Vaughan is a freshman studying chemical engineering. He holds many controversial opinions on church architecture. To input your thoughts on the CoMo chapel stained glass, email cvaugha2@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

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