Latino, Black Scholars Protest Exclusion

By Schaeffer, Pamela | National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Latino, Black Scholars Protest Exclusion


Schaeffer, Pamela, National Catholic Reporter


When David J. O'Brien, renowned U.S. Catholic historian, took it upon himself to put together a conference sponsored by an organization of Catholic intellectuals, he saw it as, well, a bit of a good deed.

The organization -- the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs -- is 50 years old and "somewhat moribund," he said, bowed a bit, perhaps, under the weight of its mission. The commission strives to provide a forum for Catholic intellectuals across disciplines in an era of dwindling interest and support.

After conference notices went out in mid-September, though, O'Brien was brought up short, reminded with considerable force of the vitality in intellectual quarters he had neglected to include on the program. O'Brien, who heads the commission's board of directors, said he is apologetic.

Outrage is probably not too strong a word for feelings that Hispanic and African-American theologians expressed over being left out. The pain was all the greater, some said, when they noted the conference title: "The Future of Catholic Intellectual Life."

Diana Hayes, African-American professor at Georgetown University, said she had noticed immediately the absence of "Catholics of color" when she received an invitation to the conference in the mail.

She said she had written O'Brien to point out that the program suggested that "only Caucasians could speak about Catholic intellectual life." O'Brien apologized by return mail, she said.

How can you talk about the future, wondered Orlando Espin, theologian at the University of San Diego, and not include Latino and Latina scholars; African-Americans and Asian Americans? "We simply don't exist for the conference organizers," he told NCR. "There is not a single reference to our intellectual life on the program."

Too often, he said, Hispanic Catholics are viewed as "objects" suitable for academic study but undervalued as "subjects" capable of making significant contributions to U.S. Catholic intellectual life.

Roberto Goizueta, theology professor at Boston College, said the conference, while not itself a major event, had become "kind of a flash point for what is in fact a much larger issue in the theological academy and in the church. We don't want to pick on this particular symposium," he said. "This is just one example of something that has been an ongoing issue for us."

"The title hit us particularly," Goizueta said, "because for so long it's been assumed that the intellectual life of Catholics is the province of Europeans. To talk about Catholic intellectual life without including other groups within the church whose intellectual life has not been given their due historically is an important issue."

Sixto Garcia, president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, said that Hispanic and African-American theologians are often "grudgingly accepted ... but expected to confine ourselves to our `Hispanic issues.' There is a very real kind of intellectual bigotry that can best be described as an assumption that we do not have the intellectual, cultural or genetic makeup to discuss thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Karl Rahner, Maurice Blondel and others," he said.

Several Latino scholars noted in interviews that, by some reports, membership of the U. …

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