For more than two centuries, our presence in our nation’s capital has meant that Georgetown has stood amidst the most challenging issues of the times.
In these moments, we have wrestled with the question: What is the role and responsibility of our nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in addressing these challenges as they emerge in the life of our nation?
The decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reverses the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing abortion rights, presents us with the responsibility to engage this question of how Georgetown can respond to such a moment. This case involves complex questions of moral judgment in the context of decisions that are very personal, intimate, and often very painful.
First, we bring the resources of a university, resources that have been shaped over a millennium, including a commitment to inquiry—to scholarship and research. As a university, we pursue the truth, wherever it may lead. We provide a home for this pursuit, supporting and developing methodologies—approaches to knowing—that sustain this pursuit. We do so, as one colleague, Stefan Collini of the University of Cambridge, describes as “under the sign of limitlessness…where the open-ended quest for understanding has primacy over any application or immediate outcome.” And we do so as a community—in dialogue, in conversation—working through differences and disagreements, as members of a diverse academic community.
Second, as a university shaped by the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, we bring important intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources to our engagement with these challenges. Among the most significant—a set of resources that have unfolded in a series of documents that, together, present the key elements of Catholic Social Thought and its promotion of the life and dignity of all. The documents that constitute Catholic Social Thought—from the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII and continuing through Fratelli Tutti of Pope Francis—provide an invaluable resource for our university community as we seek to understand our responsibilities and contribute to the common good. Among the elements of this tradition is a profound commitment to the inherent dignity of each person, to solidarity with those in need, and to the priority we must give to our respect for one another.
Finally, one way in which we can honor this respect for one another is to listen. In moments like this, we share a responsibility to listen carefully to one another—to seek ever deeper levels of understanding of the implications and impact on the lives of the members of our immediate community—and of those beyond our community. We are a university community characterized by a pluralism of perspectives, backgrounds, and identities. We must respect this pluralism and commit ourselves to listening to the insights and reflections of those who may hold views very different from our own.
Sustaining a community of open discourse, with a profound respect for one another, and ensuring we create the openings to listen, can enable our community to identify how best to contribute to the common good during this moment.
In the days ahead, we will draw on our resources as an academic community as units across the university host events and convenings to explore the issues raised by the Court’s decision. It is important that we approach these conversations with a commitment to respect, reflection, and civil discourse.