President Rougeau Participates in Georgetown Panel on Catholicism and Democracy

Nathan Howard ’25

Chief News Editor

On February 16, 2023, Georgetown University hosted Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau as a panelist for their U.S. Catholics and Challenges to Democracy conversation as part of their Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. According to Georgetown University, their Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life “is a unique effort to promote dialogue on Catholic social thought and national and global issues, build bridges across political, religious, and ideological lines, and encourage a new generation of Catholic lay leaders to see their faith as an asset in pursuing the common good.” 

The U.S. Catholics and Challenges to Democracy conversation serves to analyze recent challenges faced by democracy in the United States from a Catholic viewpoint. The talk takes into consideration the growing threat of political violence associated with “Christian nationalist” groups throughout the nation, including their role in the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The talk specifically took into consideration the words of Pope Francis, who in 2021 stated that “democracy may be the response to the siren songs of authoritarianism; and that individualism and indifference may be overcome by concern for others, for the poor and for creation” but warned that the world was seeing a “retreat from democracy” in the face of violent authoritarian terror.

The conversation was moderated by Kim Daniels, who currently serves as director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and teaches at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor. In 2016, Daniels was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication where she advised  the organizing committee for the February 2019 Vatican Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. The Initiative hosted four panelists for their U.S. Catholics and Challenges to Democracy conversation including Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau, who is currently serving as the College’s first Black and first lay President and previously served as dean of the Boston College Law School, John McGreevy, the provost of the University of Notre Dame and a professor in their department of history, Jennifer Frey, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, a faculty fellow at the Institute of Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and starting in July 2023, the inaugural dean of the new Honors College at the University of Tulsa, as well as Nichole Flores, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

The conversation answered a variety of questions associated with the correlation between American democracy and Catholic teachings. Foremost, the discussion analyzed the history of Catholicism’s connection with democratic ideals and institutions and how this history can be applied to the current challenges faced by democracy both in the United States and abroad. Additionally, the conversation discussed the public responsibilities of U.S. catholics when it comes to preserving democratic values and how Christian nationalism has threatened democratic institutions specific to the U.S. The panelists also analyzed specifically what roles racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism have played in the rise of challenges to democratic institutions in the United States and what role have Catholics played in “fostering the political and social conditions under which democratic norms and institutions have come under attack.” Finally, the panelists also discussed how U.S. Catholics can best utilize Pope Francis’ call for a “better kind of politics” and resist the “siren song” of authoritarianism to protect democracy both in our nation and abroad.

Photo courtesy of National Catholic Report

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