The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life will launch tonight in Gaston Hall with an event examining Pope Francis’ impact on American public life during his first six months as the leader of the Catholic Church.
The initiative’s major goals are to promote Catholic social teaching as it relates to current economic, social and political issues, and to prepare students, community leaders and public officials to advance the Catholic tradition of social justice.
“What is needed is informed, active lay leadership in questions of justice and peace, life and dignity,” John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, said.
Carr previously served as the executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for 25 years and was a fellow of religion and politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, will lead a distinguished advisory group to help guide the work of the initiative, actively supported by current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
The initiative originated from the Office of University President John J. DeGioia.
“I am grateful to John Carr for his willingness to lead this new initiative, which seeks to increase the connection between public life and the advancement of the common good,” DeGioia said. “The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life is deeply aligned with that mission as well as the mission of Georgetown as a Catholic, Jesuit university.”
Although the preliminary stages of the founding of the initiative occurred before the elevation of Pope Francis, the initiative’s focus fits with Francis’ goals.
“When we started talking about this center at Georgetown, Francis hadn’t come on the scene yet, but it seems as if this center is a perfect response to his papacy because he is clearly moving Catholic teaching about the poor and about justice to the center of the Church’s mission,” said E.J. Dionne, a columnist for The Washington Post and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. “The timing here is not intentional but it surely is providential.”
Carr said Pope Francis’ papacy was a fitting context to talk about Catholic social thought at Georgetown.
“These ideas have been at the heart of Georgetown for a long time, but at this moment with Pope Francis’ leadership, we have a great opportunity to dialogue about how we can work together to preserve the common good and protect the life and dignity of the poor,” he said.
A large objective of the initiative is outreach to young Catholics in public life as well as non-Catholics.
“We are encouraging leaders, especially young leaders, to bring the mission of Catholic social teaching into public life,” Carr said. “We will hold regular gatherings of people who are in public service to remind them that their faith has ideas and values that can be useful to them as they serve the common good.”
The initiative’s first event this evening will feature New York Times columnist David Brooks, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson Kim Daniels, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities President Alexia Kelley and PBS “NewsHour” political analyst Mark Shields. Wuerl, who participated in the elevation of Francis, will deliver the opening address.
The initiative’s second forum, “Poverty, Policy, and Pope Francis: Addressing the Silence and Stalemate on Poverty in the United States,” will be held Dec. 2. Participants will include Dionne, McCarrick and The Washington Post columnist and former Bush Administration speechwriter Michael Gerson.
Tonight’s event was moved from Copley Hall to Gaston to account for the more than 600 expected attendees.
“The credit goes to Pope Francis,” Carr said.