November 16, 2017

Faith, Common Good, and Democracy in a Time of Pope Francis and President Trump

The panelists discuss the legacy of John Courtney Murray with a bust of him to the right of the image.

Before his death 50 years ago, John Courtney Murray, S.J., the preeminent Catholic theologian on democracy and religious freedom, wrote that people:

of all religions and of no religion must live together in conditions of justice, peace and civic friendship, under equitable laws that protect the whole range of human rights, notably including the right to religious freedom. It is therefore necessary for the Church to show the way to justice and peace in society…


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The implications of Murray’s call to action in our polarized politics and challenged Church were explored in a one-on-one conversation with Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who authored the book The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray (Paulist Press, 1989). The bishop was then joined by former executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers and Professor of Law and Associate Dean at the University of Notre Dame Richard Garnett for further discussion of faith, the common good, and democracy. These panelists answered several key questions:

  • What are the legacy and lessons of Murray’s groundbreaking work on faith and democracy?
  • How are religious freedom and the common good threatened and advanced today?
  • How do these principles challenge us in a nation led by President Trump and in a Church led by Pope Francis?

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, moderated the Dialogue.

This Dialogue was organized in partnership with the Democracy Fund and followed a day-long academic conference at Georgetown on “John Courtney Murray Today: Reflections in the Fiftieth Anniversary Year of his Death.

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Moderated Conversation

Bishop Robert McElroy leads the diocese of San Diego and was appointed by Pope Francis. Bishop McElroy has degrees in American history from Harvard University and Stanford University. He is the author of The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray.

Reflection Panel

Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings. She previously served as executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during the Obama administration, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School, and executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Richard Garnett is professor of law and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame Law School and is the founding director of Notre Dame Law School’s Program on Church, State, and Society. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and his current project Understanding the Separation of Church and State will be published by Cambridge University Press.