Steubenville conference launches N. American endeavor on faith and culture
Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda
Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda

.- The Pontifical Council for Culture began its “intentional engagement” of North America with a conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Speakers discussed the Church’s relations with science and the future meetings, part of a series called “From Sea to Shining Sea: Faith and Culture in North America.”

The conference, which took place December 2-4, included major public addresses on faith and culture, and homilies at student Masses. Long work sessions mapped out future meetings on the arts, political life, science, music, secularization, atheism, economics and other topics.

Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, presented one public talk titled “The Church’s Engagement With Science After Darwin and Galileo: Overcoming Cultural Icons.”

According to a press release from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Msgr. Sanchez said that while secular media and some scientists have portrayed Galileo and Darwin as “victims of the Church’s relentless persecution of science,” the historical evidence leads to a different conclusion.

Regarding Darwin and his theory on the origin of the species, Msgr. Sanchez said the “indisputable facts” show that Vatican authorities never condemned the theory of evolution.

Concerning the Church’s reaction to Galileo’s theory that the earth revolved around the sun, he noted that the theory was initially labeled as heretical and caused Galileo to be placed under house arrest. However, he added, “as soon as the scientific arguments grew stronger, theological resistance decreased.”

In his view both cases were “unique’ and not representative of the Church’s ongoing relationship with science.

While the secular scientific community often points to Galileo and Darwin to block the Church from commenting on bioethical issues like embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, Msgr. Sanchez said that both issues concern “the totality of man as a person” and have “immediate” ethical consequences.

“They can’t be compared to the Galileo affair,” he commented.

For the second public talk, Pontifical Council for Culture official Richard Rouse discussed the From Sea to Shining Sea conferences.

“The council now aims to strengthen the dialogue between faith and reason in North America…whose cultural mentality has a huge effect on the rest of the world,” Rouse explained. “I don’t think Europe is aware of the great work being done in America on the life issues.”

Participants at the conference included Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop of Detroit Allan Vigneron, Bishop Emeritus of Shreveport, Louisiana William Friend and Bishop of Lake Charles, Louisiana Glen Provost.

Cardinal DiNardo preached on the evangelistic mission of St. Francis Xavier at the Dec. 3 Mass for the University Committee. Archbishop Vigneron and Bishop Friend also celebrated Masses and delivered homilies to the student body.

Dr. Max Bonilla, conference coordinator and vice president for Academic Affairs at Franciscan University, said the meeting was a “launching pad” for what he said will be an important reference point among influential people disposed to engage in “an open, respectful and intense conversation” about the world and mankind’s place in it.

“What unites us is a sincere desire for truth and to support the common good,” he added, noting that the conferences will invite learned individuals of all faiths or of no faith to speak with council members and other leading Catholic intellectuals.

He said Franciscan University of Steubenville was “honored” to host the first conference. With God’s blessing, he said, the conferences will be “a strong network of communication for a fruitful dialogue in this area of the world for years to come.”

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